Rhine, Etymology and names

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The Rhine (; ; ; ; ) is a European river that begins in the Swiss canton of Graubünden in the southeastern Swiss Alps, forms part of the Franco-German border, then flows through Germany and eventually empties into the North Sea in the Netherlands. It is the twelfth longest river in Europe, at about , with an average discharge .


The English name of the Rhine derives from Old English Rīn, which descends from Proto-Germanic *Rīnaz. This is also the source of the name in the other Germanic languages such as Dutch Rijn (formerly also Rhijn), German Rhein, Romansh Rain (via German) and also French Rhin, Czech Rýn, Spanish Rin, which came into the language through Old Frankish. This in turn derives from Indo-European *Reynos, from the root *rey- "to flow, to run", which is also the root of words like river and run. The Celtic/Gaulish name for the Rhine is Rēnos, which derives from the same Indo-European source as the Germanic name. It is also found in other names such as the Reno River in Italy, which got its name from Gaulish. The Latin name Rhēnus and Ancient Greek Ῥῆνος (Rhēnos) both derive from the Celtic word, and not from Indo-European directly, because they both share the change from -ei- to -ē-, which is characteristic of the Celtic languages but not of Latin or Greek (the Latin name would have been *Rīnus otherwise).

The name is spelled with -h- in many languages today, but judging from earlier attestations of the name that lack the -h- (such as in Old English), this is not an etymological spelling. Instead, it is probably based on the Latin transliteration of the Greek form of the name, Rhenos, seen also in rheos, stream, and rhein, to flow. The Latin spelling was probably also taken from Greek, although the name of the river may have existed in Latin before that. Its modern descendant is found in Italian Reno (also the name of a river in Italy, as mentioned above).

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External Links

  • WikipediaRhine online water guide and mapBibliography on Water Resources and International LawThe *rei– rootBritain's drowned landscapes

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