Convivial: An English Word with an Elvish Meaning

Convivial is one of those words whose etymology I discovered in a slightly backward fashion.  I learned the Latin root word first (in situ while studying Latin) and then the etymology of the Latin word before I even recognised the English cognate.  This is possibly one of the best ways to learn the etymology of English words as the roots stick in one’s head far more firmly than if one were to learn it the other way round.

In modern English, convivial is an adjective usually used in reference to a person who is fond of, or regularly occupied with, hosting parties or company.  The origin of convivial is the Latin word convivium meaning “party.”  Convivium is itself a compound word in Latin.  Its two elements are con (from com) meaning “with,” and vivere “to live.”  Convivium means “to live with.”  This brings to mind a more informal term for party: a “get-together.”

Thus convivial now has a connotation of “living with” (or “inviting people to live with one,” in the case of a convivial host) instead of simply “fond of, or occupied with, hosting.”

The title “Convivial: An English Word with an Elvish Meaning” immerged in my mind when I first learned the etymology of convivial.  The word reminded me of the welcoming generosity of J.R.R. Tolkien’s Rivendell in The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings.  Perhaps hospitality is a more accurate word for the atmosphere of Rivendell, but hospitality does not have the same connotation as convivial in its Latin root.  Hospitality comes from the Latin hospes meaning both “guest” and “host” and has no sense of “living with” as it refers more to hosting in a general sense.

I recently published an article on Aval House about weaving the spirit of Rivendell into one’s private home.  Click here to read On Building Rivendell, Part 1.

4 thoughts on “Convivial: An English Word with an Elvish Meaning

  1. Your title caught my attention immediately. The best ones invite you in, not only to enjoy the content below the heading (which I did) but also to ponder what it is that the title is pointing me towards. It is an enticement.
    I am struck that when Tolkien first introduces us to Rivendell in The Hobbit that he names it, The Last Homely House. Even Sam Gamgee feels at home there when he arrives years later. Boromir finds it hard to find. To him it is a hidden valley. But then poor Boromir finds it difficult to be a guest anywhere. A good guest is someone content to place themself, without reserve, into the hands of the host and to enjoy the experience. It requires a willingness to give up control.
    But you may already have said all this in your Aval House piece, in which case please forgive me. As you can see you have stimulated a lot of pleasurable thoughts in me.


    1. I am pleased to hear that this humble post inspired such ponderings! I too enjoy the allurement of a stimulating title. A good title often makes the content more interesting. 🙂

      Liked by 1 person

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