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Why is it called a rainbow?

Arc Iris entrance to the DIEC
Arc Iris entrance to the DIEC

There may be speakers who doubt whether it is a rainbow or a rainbow. Arc de Sant Martí is more common, but both appear in the dictionary (in addition to rainbow). But why is it called a rainbow?

This may raise doubts about whether it is more correct rainbow or Rainbow. To many speakers, "rainbow" sounds like a Castilianism. Before answering, please note that:

  • "rainbow" is the legal, literary and scientific form.
  • "arc del cel" was a popular form of pre-Christian origin already out of use in the 19th century
  • "rainbow" is the popular name and much more used than any other, even in formal records.

All three are included in the dictionary, but the main one is "rainbow". It is so because the official dictionary focuses on literary texts and not so much on people's speech. In any case, whatever the dictionary says, it's clear that everyone already says "rainbow".

From rainbow (or rainbow) to rainbow

Before the 20th century "rainbow" was common in literary texts and thus appears in the Bible in the three verses where it is cited. However, in the Chronicles of Jaume I (12th century) the popular form already appears when he says Make a blue and uermeyl arch of these that they call Saint Mertí.

Rainbow shop

The same is true in Spanish: the popular use of "arco celeste" or "arco del cielo" and the cult use of "arco iris" are documented until the 17th century. The form "rainbow" or "arcoiris" is the one that has finally triumphed over the popular "sky sky".

It is documented that in Spanish it was also called "arco de San Martín" in the area of Murcia and this is how it is recorded in the RAE dictionary.

Rainbow. Image of Frantisek Trampota a Flickr

Rainbow is a redundancy

In Greek, "iris" was used to refer to the rainbow of colors seen in the sky. It is also the name of the goddess who used it as a means of transport according to one of the legends about the rainbow.

Que en català o castellà hi posem arc davant ho converteix en una redundància: estem dient “arc+arc iris”. És una raresa del català, castellà occità i portuguès.

The rest of the languages preserve ancestral forms

Men have always seen rainbows and named them like any natural phenomenon. The most normal thing in today's languages is to keep the ancestral names because there has been no reason to change them.

A totes les llengües s'ha mantingut immutable durant segles excepte en el català, el castellà el portuguès i l'occità que el van canviar per “arc iris” o “arco iris”. In addition, Catalan and Occitan went a step further and changed "iris" to "Sant Martí".

Rainbow shop

In the other languages of the world, it is more normal to talk about a rainbow, rain, lightning and similar expressions. It's not even called rainbow in Greek!

  • Greek: ouranio toxo, "uranium arc"
  • Basque: orzadar, "horn of heaven" or uztargi , "arc of light"
  • French: rainbow "bow of the sky"
  • English: rainbow , "rainbow"
  • Italian: rainbow, "arc of lightning"
  • Finnish: satenkaari, "rainbow"
  • German: rainbow, "rainbow"
  • Arabic: what to eat, "rainbow"
  • Japanese: niji, "bridge to heaven"
  • Norwegian: rainbow, "rainbow"

But why is it called a rainbow?

The change from the literary "rainbow" (or the popular "rainbow") to "Martian's rainbow" it is a unique Catalan innovation consolidated during the 20th century. From Catalan he went to Occitan. No other language has made a similar change.

It arises from a legend from the Empordà that spread throughout the Catalan and Occitan-speaking domain. According to legend, Sant Martí played a game with the devil to see who built the prettiest bridge. The devil's was small, sad in color and made of ice. The Sant Martí one was large, brightly colored and made of glass.

Sant Martí won and people started to say "arc de Sant Martí" to what until then was known as "rainbow" by the literati or "rainbow" by the people.

Rainbow shop

The story is reinforced because around Sant Martí (November 11) theSant Martí summer. These days are the last chance to enjoy some sun before winter arrives.

The success of the rainbow

The success and fame of Sant Martí from the Middle Ages to the present day was good for propagating the name Sant Martí with variants such as:

  • Arquet de Sant Martí
  • Pont de Sant Martí (Andorra),
  • Ratlla (or rall) of Sant Martí.

It has succeeded so much that in the last 20 years it has eliminated the formal "rainbow", and all the variants with and without Sant Martí. There have been local variants without Sant Martí such as:

  • Crown of Santa Eulàlia (Maresme)
  • Arc de Berà (Tarragonès)
  • Arc d'Igualada (in Calaf)
  • Iris (Barcelona)

The popular name arc de Sant Martí has become so popular among speakers that some believe that “rainbow” is incorrect because it looks like a copy of Spanish.

The expression "arc de Sant Martí" has swept away all the expressions with "arc" without "arc" with "Sant Martí" and without "Sant Martí" that until 20 years ago could still be heard.

Arc de Sant Martí in Poboleda, Priorat, Catalonia
Arc de Sant Martí in Poboleda (Catalonia). Photo:

What do you call your town? leave a comment…

This way we will know more ways to say rainbow in Catalan!

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