Is Your Water Running?

Then you’d better catch it!


Isn’t it a little strange that we refer to running water?

This is largely thanks to the Latin word currere (to run or move quickly) which could be applied to people or objects. It’s believed that this word in turn is derived from the Proto-Indo-European root kers-, which meant to run.

It’s not too surprising that a word meaning to run would be the basis for words referring to movement in general (this root may be the basis for a wide of modern words including car, career, cargo, chariot, concourse, concur, cursor, intercourse, occur, and many, many more). We tend to see the world from our own perspective and anthropomorphise it, so we imagine objects move like we run.

I wonder if the concept of running water came about simply as a translation of words which could mean either moving or running. Or, did our ancestors believe that water was actually running? Its irregular up-down movement isn’t so different from the way we move. And many cultures believed in water spirits, so people perhaps imagined that they were running through the water when it moved.

Whatever the reason, we can still see many examples of the link between running and movement in modern English. There’s the word current, as in ocean currents. Derived from this we have electrical currents, as the electricity flows through the wires like ocean currents flow through the water.

Why though, does current also mean contemporary, of now? I think this goesΒ  back to the verbΒ to go. We think of our life as moving, as going somewhere, so current events are those that are running through our life at the moment.

But we don’t need to find words that are merely derived from older words in Latin or French for running. Think about how we use the word to run itself. I could change water in the joke in the title to refrigerator and it would still work. Your computer runs programmes or apps. Your crazy uncle tells you that The Illuminati run the world. If you really wanted to immerse yourself in running words, you might put yourself in the running to run a course in current courier opportunities.

In these cases, to run seems like a more advanced, more active form of how we use to go. We use to go to refer to the general basic activity of life. We use to run when there’s a sense of more activity or power. Running the world requires work. If a programme or appliance is running, it’s doing something, not just merely existing.

For all the sophistication of our brains, and the cultural and technological progress we’ve made, our language shows us that we still see the world through the lens of our own bodies, dating back to when we didn’t know much about the world around us and could only be fairly sure about the reality of our own physical selves. We haven’t changed that much from our ancestors who looked around them and tried to figure everything out, and I find that strangely comforting.

33 thoughts on “Is Your Water Running?

  1. “Why though, does current also mean contemporary, of now? I think this goes back to the verb to go. We think of our life as moving, as going somewhere, so current events are those that are running through our life at the moment.”

    This blew my mind.

    Another fantastic look into the the way we wield language! It’s amazing how few of these you notice until they’re pointed out to you.

    Liked by 3 people

    • I know, I only really started thinking about this on Tuesday when I realised the French for “running water” is “eau courante” which made me think of how the word for “run” is “courir” and “race” is “course,” and then the floodgates opened 😊.

      Liked by 1 person

  2. We’re such primal creatures at heart, aren’t we? Fab post, you make us wonder about all the subtleties of language that we’ve taken for granted all along, and I think that’s one of the best things you can do as a teacher!

    Liked by 2 people

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