Posted by: suekenney | December 15, 2011

Word for the Day: Torrential


Image by audreyjm529 via Flickr

This word came to mind as I listened to the rain pounding against our metal roof.  Indeed, that’s one of the definitions of its root word, torrent:  “a violent downpour of rain.”  Other definitions of torrent include “a stream of water flowing with great rapidity and violence; a rushing, violent, or abundant and unceasing stream of anything; or a violent, tumultuous, or overwhelming flow.”

Torrential is the adjective form of torrent.  It means “pertaining to or having the nature of a torrent; resembling a torrent in rapidity or violence; falling in torrents; produced by the action of a torrent; or violent, vehement, or impassioned.”

So there’s nothing calm or ordered about torrent or torrential.  No quiet little streams meandering serenely through a shady woodland glen; this is a stream or river in full flood, dashing and smashing, throwing spume up in the air, tearing at its bed and moving silt for miles downstream.

I am a word nerd, so I looked to see what the origin of the word had been.  Curiouser and curiouser, as Alice once said.  It probably came into use as an English word around 1600, through the French torrent.  It comes originally from the Latin, as so many of our English words do, and is from the present participle of torrere.  Curiously enough, the meaning of torrere is “to scorch, burn, parch” or “to roast, bake.”

I find myself wondering how we got from “scorch” and “burn” to “a stream of water flowing with great rapidity and violence.”  Fire and water seem such opposites to me.

 Another online source use the word “seething; literally burning” as a definition of the original Latin word.  Well, if you think of “seething” in the sense of “surging or foaming as if boiling” or “being in a state of agitation or excitement” – those would aptly describe a torrent of water, I think.  So my best guess is that the connection came in the appearance of a torrent of water as something that is boiling or burning underneath.

I close with a quote from Anais Nin:

 His life rushes onward in such torrential rhythm that…only angels and devils can catch the tempo of it.
Do you know anyone who lives at such a crazy pace that you could imagine only angels or devils catching the tempo of it?


  1. I love your breakdown of this. And a person fitting this description would be christopher hopper.

    • To tell the truth, I had him in mind as well. Thanks for reading!

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