Are the words Ravenous and Raven related?

Simply, no. But…

One could easily imagine the word ravenous, meaning ‘voracious, very hungry’, originating from the word raven. Particularly, if you have ever watched raven nestlings eat. They need to eat every couple of hours and not just snacks either. Bernd Heinrich in the Mind of the Raven gives us a snippet of exactly how much these young birds can consume. Here is a sample 4 day diet for (6) five-week old nestlings he was caring for:

Day One: One woodchuck and one snowshoe hare (roadkills that [he] froze and then chopped up—skin, bones, guts, and all—into bite-sized chunks and thawed before feeding).

Day Two: Three red squirrels, one chipmunk, six frogs, eight chicken eggs (crunched up shells and all).

Day Three: Two gray squirrels, five frogs, six eggs, six mice.

Day Four: One hindquarter of a Holstein calf.

Picture this food in relation to these birds—raven fledglings—around half a foot long. THAT IS A LOT OF FOOD for their size.

However, the correlation between the word ravenous and raven is simply happenstance. While ravens do happen to be very hungry, the word raven or ‘ravin’ is of Germanic descent appearing around 800 AD. The raven’s name comes from the Germanic root ‘khraben’ which is thought to have arisen as an imitation of the harsh, grating call of the raven itself.1

On the other hand the word ravenous is of Latin descent originally.2 This can be a bit confusing so let me try to keep the lifeline of this word simplified.

  • ‘Ravenous’ is derived from the Old French word ‘ravineux’ (original meaning: ‘violent rush, robbery‘).
  • ‘Ravineux’ is derived from the Old French word ‘raviner’.
  • ‘Raviner’ is derived from the Latin word ‘rapinare’.
  • ‘Rapinare’ is derived from ‘rapina’ (original meaning: robbery, plunder, booty).
  • ‘Rapina’ is derived from the Classical Latin word ‘rapere’ (original meaning: drag off; snatch; destroy).
  • ‘Rapere’ is derived from the Proto-Indo-European root I ‘*rep-‘

The verb form of ravenous is “to raven”. It is quite proper to use the word in its verb form or in its present participle form ‘ravening’ which means “to search for or consume food voraciously.” Can any of you come up with some good uses of this word? If so, I will post them. =)

So…no, ravenous and raven are not related etymologically speaking but we can still appreciate the correlation, can’t we?

While raven, in the bird sense, is as common as the bird—it seems the word ravenous in any of its forms is simply disappearing in everyday conversation. Tsk, tsk, tsk… We are fast losing so many wonderful words—forgotten—replaced with the ever-so-annoying text-speak.

  1. http://www.word-detective.com/021804.html []
  2. http://www.myetymology.com/english/ravenous.html []