Thursday, June 4, 2015

Language of Confusion: Rivals

I was looking at the word “rival” the other day and wondering if it was related to the word “arrive” or if it was another one of those inane coincidences that seem to be permeated throughout etymology. I’m sure it won’t be one of those.

Arrive first showed up in the early thirteenth century meaning to reach land at the end of a sea voyage (I guess it was so special it had its own word?) and it wasn’t until the late fourteenth century that people started using it in other ways. It comes from the Anglo French ariver and Old French ariver, with the same arrive at land meaning, and before that, the Vulgar Latin arripare and classical Latin ad ripam, yes, a whole phrase : ). The ad means to and the ripam comes from ripa, shore. Put them both together and you have “to the shore”. Oh, and another version of ripa is riparius, the ancestor of river.

Rival showed up later, in the late sixteenth century from the classical Latin rivalis, which could mean rival or neighbor. It comes from rivus, which means brook. The thought is that it’s based on the competitiveness of neighbors who used the same stream which sounds crazy enough to be true. So all this means that arrive and rival are related, but what about other words with -rive in them, like derive and contrive? Ha, ha. No.

Derive showed up in the late fourteenth century from the Old French deriver, pour out or originate (like derive from). It comes from the classical Latin derivare, shift away, like you would a stream of water. It comes from a phrase too, de rivo, where de equals from and rivo comes from rivus, stream. So, from a stream. While it might seem logical for rivo and rivus to be related to river and ripa, they aren’t. Like, at all. And now we use it in math and logic.

Contrive is completely not related to anything either. It showed up in the early fourteenth century from the Old French controver, to find out or imagine, and the Late Latin contropare, which means compare. Com- means with and tropus, which means song, I kid you not. It comes from the Greek tropos, figure of speech, which is a lot more appropriate for its other descendant, trope. It doesn’t really make sense, but it went from compare to imagine to contrive because…uh




  1. I would not have made that connection between arrival and rival. Interesting. I don't see the big deal in sharing a stream, unless it's some trickle that people have to collect immediately. But back then it would have been used for laundry, sanitation, and everything else, I imagine.

  2. Compare and contrive have such vastly different meanings. Really weird.

  3. Really strange that arrive and rival are the two that are connected.

  4. You cannot rival me! Unless you move in next door; then, we can be rivals together.

  5. And how often does anyone use the word contrive anymore?

  6. Contrive and trope are related? I can see that.

  7. Really interesting! I love the word 'contrive', but it weirds me out that it's related to 'compare; which is so totally different. English is weird….


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