Adventures in Etymology – Roof

Today we’re exploring the origins of the word roof.

Castell Penrhyn Castle

A roof [ɹuːf / ɹʊf] is:

  • the cover of a building
  • material used for a roof
  • the highest point
  • an upper limit
  • the vaulted upper boundary of the mouth

It comes from the Middle English rof [roːf] (roof, house, top of the mouth), or from the Old English hrōf [xroːf] (roof, the sky or heavens), from the Proto-Germanic *hrōfą (roof), from the Proto-Indo-European *krāpo- (roof), from *krāwə- (to cover, heap) [source].

Words from the same roots include: roef [ruf] (a cabin on a boat) in Dutch, ruf (deckhouse, doghouse) in Danish, rouf [ʁuf] (deckhouse) in French, strop (ceiling) in Croatian, Czech, Polish, Serbian and Slovenian, and the old Russian word строп [strop] (roof, attic, loft) [source].

Incidentally, the Dutch word roef is only used to refer to a cabin on a river boat. A cabin on a big ship is a kajuit the origins of which are uncertain. It possibly comes from the Old French cabane (cabin, hut, shack, shed) and hutte (hut) [source].

Here’s a video I made of this information:

Video made with Doodly [afflilate link].

I also write about words, etymology and other language-related topics on the Omniglot Blog, and I explore etymological connections between Celtic languages on the Celtiadur.

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One thought on “Adventures in Etymology – Roof

  1. In the US, there seems to be a difference of opinion about how to say “roof”. Some use what I guess is called a “long U” like “proof”, while others seem to like something that’s hard to characterize, but sounds like it’s somewhere between “proof” and “stuff” but not exactly either one.

    After considerable effort and experimentation, the “alternate roof” sound seems to come off as if there are two sounds that glide together. The first one is like the “oo” of “proof”, while the second one sounds like the “u” of “stuff”. Result: Sort of like “r-oo-u-f”. Best I can come up with.

    For me, I prefer the “proof” version of “roof”. The proof is that it’s how I’ve said it my whole life. (And, that’s proof enough for me.)

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