Rivers and Words:

Which English words (that are not proper nouns) stem from the names of rivers? Let's set aside, as not very interesting, the terms for people or cultures from an area close to or related to the river (which might be proper nouns in any event).

Please check your answers (for instance, in before posting them, rather than just relying on vague memory or guesswork. Note that I might (or might not) delete some comments that seem to be nonresponsive or duplicative in order to keep the thread focused on the answers.

Steve H (mail):
5.28.2009 7:30pm
Ohio guy:


/too easy
5.28.2009 7:31pm
James Moylan (mail) (www):
How about nihilism?
5.28.2009 7:35pm
Anderson (mail):
A good reference guide to Finnegans Wake would probably come in handy here.
5.28.2009 7:37pm
Amazon! Actually, I bet it was the other way around.
5.28.2009 7:37pm
James Moylan (mail) (www):
5.28.2009 7:37pm
When is rubicon not a proper noun?
5.28.2009 7:39pm
5.28.2009 7:39pm
Say, Sgt. York?
5.28.2009 7:39pm
James Moylan (mail) (www):
trying to dig it from memory rather than sources - isn't there something from the Romantic poets? What was the river? Colleridge! The river Alph? No that don't help.

(Ta Eugene - this is exactly the distraction my cold Aussie winter morning needed)
5.28.2009 7:40pm
James Moylan (mail) (www):
5.28.2009 7:41pm
Apparently "danubian" is an adjective, from the Danube.
5.28.2009 7:43pm
James Moylan (mail) (www):
(damn - rubric is ME)
5.28.2009 7:44pm

rubric comes from rubrica, red ocher, not the river. Sez
5.28.2009 7:46pm
5.28.2009 7:47pm
James Moylan (mail) (www):
A biblical river? Help - I need a creationist! (Never thought I'd type that sentence)
5.28.2009 7:47pm
Easy-peasy! Lethal from the River Lethe which surrounds hell and into which Achilles was dipped by his mother who held him by the ankle. Stygian from the black river which also surrounds hell and across which what's his name (I remembered - Charon) rows the dead and takes for the fare, the coins left in the deads' eye sockets. And meander(ing) from the Greek river which winds all over the place.
5.28.2009 7:48pm
James Moylan (mail) (www):

Dat waz the one I was groping for!
5.28.2009 7:50pm
Lonra Done (mail):
5.28.2009 8:02pm
Pro Natura (mail):
Tweed got deleted but I stand by it based on the following T

he original name was tweel, the Scots for 'twill', the cloth being woven in a twilled rather than a plain pattern. The current name came about almost by chance, according to a tale recounted in Windsor Revisited, written by HRH The Duke of Windsor. About 1830, a London merchant received a letter from a Hawick firm about some tweels. The London merchant misinterpreted the handwriting, understanding it to be a trade-name taken from the name of the River Tweed which flows through the Scottish Borders textile areas. Subsequently the goods were advertised as Tweed, and the name has remained so ever since.[1]
Wikipedia on origin of tweed
5.28.2009 8:03pm
Jonathan F.:
The Mississippian period is one.
5.28.2009 8:07pm
Tiger (Tigris)
5.28.2009 8:09pm
5.28.2009 8:09pm
Lacnoic is given by the name of the bay in Greece.
5.28.2009 8:17pm
rubicon -- a point of no return
5.28.2009 8:22pm
Publicus (mail):
Indigo. reports "indigo" is derived from the Indus river.
5.28.2009 8:24pm
AlanDownunder (mail):
1. a fishing net that hangs vertically in the water, having floats at the upper edge and sinkers at the lower.
--verb (used with object)
2. to fish for or catch with a seine.
3. to use a seine in (water).
--verb (used without object)
4. to fish with a seine.
5.28.2009 8:28pm
5.28.2009 8:31pm
James Moylan (mail) (www):
entirely beside the point but still watery - has anyone noticed this gem:

Beach raid digs up several illegal clammers

'Alaska Wildlife Troopers ran a widespread bust targeting illegal clam diggers on Kenai Peninsula beaches over Memorial Day weekend, citing at least 22 people for misconduct with mollusks.'

The term 'misconduct with mollusks' has simply made my day!
5.28.2009 8:43pm
Kevin R (mail):
MartyA: Mythology is notoriously inconsistent, but generally the ancient myths have Charon ferrying the dead across the river Acheron, rather than the river Styx (the Greek underworld had several rivers.. Lethe, Styx, Acheron, Cocytus, Phlegethon, sometimes more). Homer has Odysseus cross the Acheron to meet Tiresias, I believe, and Virgil mentions it also. Dante took some of the Greek underworld myths and adapted them to Christian Hell in the Divine Comedy; he has Charon and the river Acheron at the border as well.

Anyway, you mention lethal, from Lethe, and stygian, from Styx. "Acheron" is sometimes used as a generic term for the underworld or hell (synechdoche, I think it's called? Referring to a larger whole by one of its parts?) but it's still a proper noun in that case I guess.

(The observant will notice I have "acheron" in my email address; it's an area of myth that interests me. :) )
5.28.2009 8:44pm
Bama 1L:
Ancient authors described Okeanos as a river (potamos) surrounding the entire world. Plato in particular listed it as one of the four rivers rising in Hades, two of the others being Lethe and Styx. Therefore ocean is a common noun derived from the name of a specific river.
5.28.2009 8:44pm

Lethal from the River Lethe which surrounds hell and into which Achilles was dipped by his mother who held him by the ankle.

'lethal' does not come from 'Lethe', comes from the Latin Latin letalis, lethalis, from letum death [Source]; and Achille's mother dipped him the river Styx, the river of death.
5.28.2009 8:46pm
James Moylan (mail) (www):
I seem to recall someone discussing the derivation of a term linked to the watercourse that Diogynies (the cynic) washed his lettuce in? It'll bug me all day. It was in a commentary on the Republic. (Nussbaum maybe?)

(hey GMS I tried rubicon and got shot down )
5.28.2009 8:51pm
Michael F. Martin (mail) (www):
Hmm... I guess Heraclitus was wrong.
5.28.2009 9:06pm
Orin Cur:
Po-boy sandwiches are named after the river Po in Italy.
5.28.2009 9:32pm
Acheronian ... dark and dismal, after the river Acheron
5.28.2009 9:38pm
Kevin R-
"(synechdoche, I think it's called? Referring to a larger whole by one of its parts?)"

Way out on a limb here but I think "synechdoche" is misspelled. Don't know the correct spelling but that doesn't look right. Your definition seems right. My Latin master used the example "souls" for people and "sails" for ships.

I always regretted that I was not able to add to his list an example that blossomed into existence and, then, disappeared,
"transistor" for radio.
5.28.2009 9:47pm
Lethal doesn't work, but "lethargic" does. Amazon does not work, because the ancient Amazons gave their name to the river, not the other way around.

Kevin/Marty: The correct spelling is "synecdoche." But you're half-right about the definition--it can also include substituting the whole for the part, like "He ran into trouble with the law," where "law" means "police."
5.28.2009 10:13pm
Edward A. Hoffman (mail):
James Moylan wrote:
The term 'misconduct with mollusks' has simply made my day!
Is that like sleeping with the fishes?
5.28.2009 10:17pm
Wonderduck (mail) (www):
Considering that we're all doing this via the internet, I'd think that "streaming" should be on this list...
5.28.2009 10:34pm
one of many:
Does rhinestone count? it is derived from the Rhine region named after the Rhine river but not the river itself.

If derived indirectly is your idea then while one might think Industry would be derived from the Indus River, it isn't but through Indian gives us indigo.
5.28.2009 10:50pm
geokstr (mail):
mississippi: noun meaning "second"

as in "one mississippi, two mississippi...."
5.28.2009 10:58pm
arbitraryaardvark (mail) (www):
ganja = ganges? hippopotamus doesnt count, tweed's taken, dartmouth is proper,
5.28.2009 11:42pm
Henry David Thoreau (mail) (www):
Talk about learning our letters & being literate! Why, the roots of letters are things. Natural objects & phenomena are the original symbols or types which express our thoughts & feelings, & yet American scholars, having little or no root in the soil, commonly strive with all their might to confine themselves to the imported symbols alone. All the true growth & experience, the living speech, they would fain reject as "Americanisms." It is the old error, which the church, the state, the school, ever commit, choosing darkness rather than light, holding fast to the old & to tradition. A more intimate knowledge, a deeper experience, will surely originate a word. When I really know that our river pursues a serpentine course to the Merrimac, shall I continue to describe it by referring to some other river, no older than itself, which is like it, & call it a meander? It is no more meandering than the Meander is Musketaquiding. As well sing of the nightingale here as the Meander.

What if there were a tariff on words, on language, for the encouragement of home manufactures. Have we not the genius to coin our own? Let the schoolmaster distinguish the true from the counterfeit.
5.28.2009 11:50pm
Marc :
has BitTorrent been nouned yet?
5.28.2009 11:52pm
Raționalitate (www):
Regarding the lethal debate -- if you guys used a real etymology dictionary, you wouldn't be having this problem. is a poor substitute, and is free and ridiculously comprehensive (see the entry for Welsh for the ultimate derivation of the name of this blog -- Volokh).
5.28.2009 11:58pm
a couple more from
agate (from the greek river Achates in Sicily)
phaesant (river Phasis)
5.29.2009 12:42am
J R R:

(Also from etymonline)
5.29.2009 12:49am
AlanDownunder (mail):
Is the Niger River a candidate? A Latin name for a river where blacks lived would likely have preceded a misspelling of that Latin as a term for indigenous Africans.
5.29.2009 2:10am
AlanDownunder (mail):
gila monster
Heloderma suspectum, 1877, Amer.Eng., from Gila River, which runs through its habitat in Arizona.
5.29.2009 2:29am
non-native speaker:
Iberian, from river Ebro.
5.29.2009 4:25am
NickM (mail) (www):
Amazon is used nowadays to mean a large woman, not just as a proper noun for a member of that tribe.
IMO mythological rivers shouldn't count.

5.29.2009 4:42am
Yes, Nick, but both the noun "amazon," meaning a large woman, and the proper noun "Amazon," meaning the river, come from the name of the tribe. Doesn't count.
5.29.2009 6:40am
Milbarge (mail) (www):
Conga, the dance, derives from Congo, the region, which is named for the river.
5.29.2009 9:27am
Patrick from OZ (mail):
I protest, an amazon is not a large woman, but an intimidating and warlike one. Little amazon is not a contradiction in terms at all.

And this seems to have been a kindred spirit of Eugene's in many ways: Margaret Spelling RIP.
5.29.2009 9:50am
bornyesterday (mail) (www):
did anyone say indian yet? from the indus river

agate stones were either named for a river in sicily they were found by, or the river was named for them

pheasant comes from the phasis river flowing into the black sea at colchis

rosemary may have its original name "rosmarine" from a proto-indoeuropean word which also became, rha, the scythian name for the volga river.

rhubarb actually does come from rha


all those are from searching for 'river' on etymonline
5.29.2009 10:00am
Dan Weber (www):
This thread is erie.
5.29.2009 10:56am
5.29.2009 11:12am
one of many:
"Podunk" excellent. didn't know there was an actual Podunk until I looked it up.
5.29.2009 3:06pm
The element rhenium is named for the river Rhine.
5.29.2009 6:42pm
Bob Goodman (mail) (www):
"Bronx cheer", if you'll allow a 2 word phrase. Some sources give "Bronck's River[/river]" as primary to "the Bronck's", rather than the seemingly more plausible idea that "the Bronck's" or "the Broncks'" referred to their property or domicile separately from the river's naming.
5.31.2009 3:42pm

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