Is there a specific/right term to refer to this Mediterranean natural entity, i.e. a place where a stream runs sporadically?

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  • 1
    Do you know words for this in languages other than Latin? That might give useful pointers.
    – Joonas Ilmavirta
    Commented May 1 at 19:10
  • @JoonasIlmavirta wadi seems to be quite similar: it's an Arabic word.but is sometimes used in English.
    – brianpck
    Commented May 1 at 20:33
  • @JoonasIlmavirta also arroyo (borrowed from Spanish, from Latin arrugia "mineshaft" with a shift to 2nd declension), coulee, gulch, gully (likely ultimately from Latin gula "throat"), & ravine (borrowed from French, from Latin rapīna "robbery")
    – Tristan
    Commented May 2 at 9:18
  • it's worth noting that, as the large number of English terms listed here demonstrates, these terms for relatively small topographic features often have significant variation and are frequently borrowed from local substrates
    – Tristan
    Commented May 2 at 9:34

1 Answer 1


I think the following shows there wasn't/isn't just one definitive term, though I hope you can get something to use out of my answer.

Titus Livius (Livy), The History of Rome, Book 4 Chapter 30 http://www.perseus.tufts.edu/hopper/text?doc=Perseus:text:1999.02.0169:book=4 in section 8 around the fountains and rivulets which had dried up :- [8] ... circa torridos fontes rivosque ...

Torridus as an adjective was used at least to refer to dried up fountains and small streams:-

torridus rivus  - (a) small dried up stream

Thesaurus linguae Romanae & Britannicae 1578 CE By Thomas Cooper gives :-

 exaruerunt amnes -  The rivers be waxen dry  
 Amnes solibus exhausti - The rivers dried up with the sunne
 Euanuerunt & exaruerunt amnes - The ryuers were consumed and dried vp  

Though the Latin for a dried up riverbed or watercourse (the request in the title), which can refer to either a permanent or temporary state, I believe will be different from a stream or river running sporadically (the phrasing in the body of the question).

Titus Livius (Livy), The History of Rome, Book 4 Chapter 30 section 7 [7] ... vix ad perennes suffecit amnes ... scarcely kept the rivers flowing through the year. The phrase could be negated and turned around to say a river or stream doesn't flow the entire year, or using the verb exaresco exarescere, dries up during the year.

I researched in Latin from several angles, from both the point of view of the ground (riverbeds, dry, course, inundation) and that of the water (from flowing current, the type of flowing water (river, stream, etc), river water, to being drained, parched, thirsty) and frequency (including sporadic, sometimes).

Not finding classical sources, and using amnis for a generalisation of water flow, replacing sporadic with temporary, I translated:-

 amnis temporarius  - (a) temporary stream

flumen, amnis, rivus, rivulus, fons are all used for water flows, and have different implications for size.

amnis in Lewis and Short https://alatius.com/ls/index.php?met=up&ord=amnis in my opinion, ended up being the best match for stream, and better for matching for other water flows, also being used poetically for anything flowing. Like flumen, it is also used as an abstraction referring to the current and also used in other turns of phrase such as adverso amne upstream and secundo amni downstream. After this I assigned my chosen adjective, "temporary".

temporarius in Lewis and Short https://alatius.com/ls/index.php?met=up&ord=temporarius in my opinion was better than temporalis for something not permanent. temporarius included the meanings, temporary depending upon, or according to the time, lasting only for a time, and also changeable.

Scarily, google translate agreed with me (in its Latin to English translation, though the English to Latin equivalent resulted in tempus)

So the following are listed below as some alternatives referred to, which aren't necessarily referred to in my above answer :-

aliquando sometimes
aridus dry, parching
alveus, canalis (and other variations) as riverbed, course as possibly a 'dry riverbed' as a permanent condition, though equally no reference was found to a temporary riverbed (an alternate point of view) as a possible alternative to a temporary stream
aquaduct aquaducts aquaductus watercourse
aqua haeret from hareo haerere the water stops, the water (clock) stops, to bring to standstill, to denote a difficulty in explaining one's meaning aquae magnae a flood, inundation
bibo bibere, ebibo ebibere the drinking, the draining of the water
exaresco exarescere exarui to become quite dry , applies to streams amnes as well as fontes springs
fons, fontis spring, stream
flumen aqua river water
flumen flumenis river, larger than stream qua flumen intermittit though this context is to a place where the river interposes
fluvius a river, running water, a stream inundatio a flowing upon, or over, an indundation with its usage for a river the context is of overflowing banks, than filling a dry stream and a flooded or watered 'dry riverbed' seemed clumsier
flumino adverso , flumino secundo also used for rivers like in adverso amne and secundo amni to mean upstream and downstream respectively. interdum between whiles, occasionally
meatus -us course, path , channel (of stars), a going, motion as a permanent rarus rare, infrequent, uncommon
rivus -i a small stream, a brook
rivulus -i rivolos a small brook, rivulet
sitiens (and other variants) thirsting, thirsty, parching, of capacity
temporalis -e lasting only for a time
temporary temporarius -a -um
temporis seasonal torridus -a -um parched, baked, dried up, referring to fontes, and amnes

"amnis temporalis" and "temporalis amnis" did actually get used from the late 16th Century onwards, such as in De contemptu amnis temporalis honoris as in Opera Thomae a Campis, cognomento Malleoli, 1576. I thought this may have meant temporal in this context rather than temporary.

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