September 16, 2015

Case File #015.09.16: RAVENOUS

Though it has no real relationship to hunger, the Latin verb rapere, which means “to violently snatch or grab” or “to pillage,” is the ultimate source of the English adjective ravenous. The Latin passed into Old French as raviner, a verb that could mean either “to ravage” or “to forcibly seize” (depending on context), and from this speakers of Old French derived the adjective raveneux (sometimes spelled raveneus or ravinos), using it to mean “violently greedy” or “aggressively grasping.” At some point during the fourteenth century, English speakers borrowed the French adjective, Anglicized its form to ravenes, and started using it to mean “extremely hungry”—the leap from “violently greedy” to “extremely hungry” came via the observation of the way many predatory animals seize and devour their prey—but it wasn't until around 1405 that the English word took the contemporary form ravenous and gained the additional secondary meanings of “so great as to seem insatiable” and “inordinately eager for satisfaction or gratification.”

©2015 Michael R. Gates

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