Sewing-related etymology

From the marvelous publication , which purports to be for the elderly but whose demo is actually the merely cranky of any age:

An old seaman named Tom Carr, who sailed from about every fishing port in England, Scotland, and Ireland, once sent me the word riv, a verb which means to sew roughly. He first heard it in the fishing port of Killybegs in Donegal many years ago; it was used only be the ancients, survivors of the days of sail. From Old Nors rifa, to tack together.

[from Diarmain Muirithe's October WORDS column]

Now, not being an etymologist of any stripe myself (one thing working on dictionaries teaches you is to be highly suspicious of every etymology), I can't say anything about what the Old Norse did or didn't say, but I love this verb and would like to suggest a revival. Rivving is what you do when you sew up something quickly and sloppily–a garment you need for something but don't intend to wear often, a fast alteration not intended to hold forever, a mend that's only barely better than the flaw it's fixing. "Oh this? I just rivved it up. I should really take it apart again and do it right …"

Why should crusty old sailors have all the fun? They won't mind if we borrow this word …

0 thoughts on “Sewing-related etymology

  1. Oh, I loves me some Old Norse, and I loves me some sewing. Crotchety old E.V. Gordon in his “Intro to Old Norse” tells me rifa means “to tear,” but who’s to say that makes the ety wrong? After all, how many quick-and-dirty hems have I torn out and redone properly?I will take up the banner of “riv” with ya. Much more elegant than the other words I use for my temporary fixes.


  2. I “rivved” the hem of a pair of jeans a few hours before flying out on holiday last week. Didn’t have time to wash them first or get the machine out so just hand sewed them pretty roughly with the intent of doing a better job later. Didn’t know there was a term for it though!


  3. A very useful and pleasant word, almost onomatopoeic. (I can just imagine it as an “action indicator” word in a comic or manga.) Now we’ll see the TRUE POWER of Dressaday (besides the number of people sewing their own dresses): by how quickly “riv” enters common parlance. Bwahahahaaa!P.S. I took the quiz, and I think I may be becoming an oldie: I do spend obsessive amounts of time in stationery stores, and I mend things and polish my shoes, and I have been known to save string (I also carry handkerchiefs, which I was surprised they didn’t mention). But I don’t get the bit about Japanese restaurants; can’t you be old AND Japanese? Or just, you know, not xenophobic?


  4. when my boys were small, my sister and i used to make their halloween costumes – usually last minute — sewing things together by hand. once, while sewing a hand made Superman “S” onto a blue sweatshirt, my sister exasperatedly exclaimed: “You’re taking forever! Stop being so neat and do some stupid sewing!” i wish that we had the word “riv” instead!


  5. OMG,Erin, thanks for the link to the Oldie! Did anyone happen to read the archived article about the Cambridge rapist? He got caught though so maybe he was just a rivvist…Chris


  6. Finally, people might know what I mean when I say I’ve rivved something!It’s still in use in some parts of Liverpool, if my father’s family – sailors for as long back as we can tell – is anything to go by.


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