KODIAK — The world was on edge this week.
And, no, I’m not talking about the epic upset of Croatia over Russia at the World Cup. Take that, trolls!
I’m talking about the young Thai soccer team and their coach trapped in a series of caves while monsoon weather threatened to seal off their escape for weeks. Thanks to an international coalition of expert divers, everyone was able to escape. You could almost feel the earth breathe a collective sigh once the news was announced.
And, in case you’re wondering, yes, a movie about the escape is already in the works. Pure Flix Entertainment, a Christian evangelical movie company, is already hiring screenwriters and scouting locations.
The soccer team hasn’t even been reunited with their family yet, and Americans are already caving to the financial promise of telling their story.
The word cave joined English in the early 13th century from the Old French word of the same spelling. In fact, the French cave replaced the Old English word eordscrafu.
In French, the word could mean one of those hollow places in the earth (and this is before there was such a thing as a Republican administration’s immigration policy … zing!), but it also could mean any kind of vault or cellar.
Cave comes from the Latin word cavea, meaning, quite simply, hollow. It stems from the Proto-Indo-European root keue, which, as a verb, meant to swell, and as a noun meant hole. You’ll find that root in words such as accumulate, cavity, and even church.
No, the etymology isn’t suggesting that church is hollow; rather, it’s more related to the swell denotation. That is, keue is the root of the Greek word kyrios, which means lord. Imagine a lord that is strong, powerful, or, as the kids say today, swoll. In ancient Greece, a church was called kyriakon doma, meaning the lord’s house. And we see this root borrowed in a shortened form in the Old Saxon kirika, which formed the Old English circe, later written as church.
And there might be some connection to the early Christians who often held church services in literal caves, like catacombs.
So when we hear the word cave, we often think of this hollowed out underground area, perhaps with a vaulted ceiling and extensive labyrinthine pathways.
But then the verb form of cave is a little more complex.
Today, when we say someone or something caved, we figuratively imply that they yielded to some kind of pressure. This meaning dates to about 1837, and was actually influenced by a Flemish verb calve, meaning to collapse or to fall in and leave hollow.
There was a verb, caven, from the 15th century, which meant to hollow something out. But this more general modern sense of something collapsing in or down was an early American invention from the Flemish word. To Americans, the words—calve and cave—sounded the same and had somewhat similar meanings, so we started to conflate the two.
We don’t necessarily have the same confusion with the word dive. It also joined English around the same time as cave, but was spelled dufan, and also meant to duck or sink, which is more like the kind of diving I do.
In Old English, though, the past tense of dufan was deaf, and many linguists point to the later adoption of dove as the past tense of dive as a little perplexing. Some think that the present/past forms of drive (drive and drove) influenced speakers’ decision.
Dive derives from the Proto-Germanic dubijan, from the PIE root dheub, meaning deep or, interestingly, hollow.
The word diver first appeared in the early 16th century. The noun dive developed centuries later, and in 1871 was first used to describe a disreputable bar, likely because these kinds of places were located in basements.
Then, at the beginning of the aviation era, it didn’t take long for pilots to apply dive to their work. For instance, in 1939, aviators were using the phrase dive bombers, and earlier to nose-dive was coined in 1915, since the forwardmost, aerodynamic part of an airplane is called the nose. And in the 1920s, nose-dive was used to signify any kind of large, sudden decrease, such as a stock market crash that sent the US into a Great Depression.
In the case of the trapped boys’ soccer team, the diving was heroic, a reminder that real humans do what it takes to reunite trapped or lost children with their families, despite the odds, the bureaucracy, and their politics.