Tuesday, September 12, 2006

Of Rivals & Rivalry

A bucolic scene:

It’s eight in the morning on a warm July day. The sun has risen high enough in the sky to produce a dappled effect on the forest floor. Insects buzz and crickets chirp, providing an almost orchestral background, and somewhere near by, honeybees in a hollow stump add a distinctive layer to the sound.

A stream runs through the woods, not headlong like a stampeding herd, but steadily and purposefully, fingers of water testing the staying power of stones and caressing the banks on both sides in a proprietary way.

On the west bank of the stream, a young boy sits patiently, bamboo pole in hand, his hooked worm struggling downstream with the current, almost out of sight. Unexpectedly, across the way, a young girl emerges from the woods, plops down on a grassy part of her bank, and sets up her fishing line. She raises her eyes and sees the boy. They stare at each other for a moment across the water, then shyly wave at each other in acknowledgement.

Now let’s shatter the peace. This is where the words rival and rivalry come from: two people living or situated on opposite banks of a stream, competing for the same resources. The Latin word rivus is encapsulated here: a stream.

And so we have business rivalries, where the long knives are out and industrial espionage is a possibility. We have military rivalries where bullets rip through flesh and bombs obliterate entire villages. We have political rivalries where reputations are besmirched and dirty tricks prevail.

I’m telling you, it’s a can of worms.

[Sidebar: Richard Sheridan, The Rivals]

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