When the word ravine was first used in English in 1545, it meant "powerful surge of water". It wasn't until the late seventeenth century that it first began to refer to gorges created by powerful surges of water, with literary usage peaking in 1855. The word comes from Old French raviner, which primarily meant "take by force" in the sense of robberies, but it was also figuratively applied to water rushing into places, which is how we got the definition. Raviner in turn derives from the Latin verb rapere, meaning "to seize" (this is also the root of words like raptor, rape, rapid, ravish, surreptitious, usurp, and more). Finally, etymologists reconstruct the word to the Proto-Italic root rapio and the Proto-Indo-European verb hrep, similarly meaning "to snatch".
Hello! I'm Adam Aleksic, a senior studying government and linguistics at Harvard University, where I co-founded the Harvard Undergraduate Linguistics Society. In addition to etymology, I also really enjoy trivia, politics, vexillology, geography, board games, conlanging, art history, and law.