In the many adventures of speaking nothing but Romanian with my children, I many times encounter words which I do not know or cannot recall. Though Romanian was my first language, I learned it by listening to my parents and grandparents speaking it and so there are sometimes gaps between what I heard as a child and words that I want to say to my children. One such word is pigeon. You may not know this, but pigeons are one of the most often spotted birds in New York. Some people call them flying rats, as they are considered by many to be quite disgusting.
I was wondering what the word was for pigeon because I could not recall learning it. Looking in the dictionary, I found two translations — porumbei and columbă. This intrigued me and so I looked into the etymology of the word porumbei and found this page with information on the word pigeon in different languages. It seemed most countries which had Romance languages favored words that were similar to columbă. The original Latin word from which it comes is Columbus. (Christopher Pigeon, anyone?)
My thought therefore was that the other word, porumbei, must have come on account of the fact that pigeons often eat corn. I asked around — I have a colleague here that is from Bucharest and of course my parents are both Romanian. None could provide any insight on the connection between the two though my father told me that it was unlikely that the word would have derived from the word for corn.
It just had to be the case, though — or so I thought in my mind. The word for corn is right in porumbei! Porumb! It was like when I discovered that the word for knife (cuțit) is inside the word for sharp (ascuțit) — no coincidences, right?
For some reason I thought of looking into the etymology of the Romanian word porumb itself and today the real answer came to me.
It turns out that I had it all backwards. The word porumb comes from the Latin word palumbus, which means wood-pigeon, or ring-dove.
Sometimes the most obvious and seemingly true answer is not necessarily the correct one.