Since avalanche is a huge amount of snow swallowing stuff and avaler means to swallow, I wonder if they have the same origin. (They also look quite alike and the participe présent is even closer: avalant)

Also, if someone could mention a good online etymology french dictionary (english ones are welcome too!), I would really appreciate it.

  • It would seem that “avaler” first meant “descendre” ; avalanche definitely as nothing to do with a mass of snow swallowing stuff. There might be another common origin, though, but the TLF (avaler, avalanche) doesn’t seem to go that way. I’ll try looking a bit further, but I unfortunately don’t have any Grand Robert or other “large” dictionary at my disposal.
    – Édouard
    Commented May 23, 2015 at 1:14
  • Just wiktionary in english answers for you ;)
    – Yohann V.
    Commented May 23, 2015 at 6:57

2 Answers 2


Bien qu’Édouard ait donné la réponse étymologique, il y a une corrélation euphonique autour du mot aval :

  • Une péniche qui va de l'amont (du point le plus haut) vers l'aval (le point le plus bas) est une péniche avalante, qui descend un cours d'eau.

  • Faire descendre rapidement du gosier à l'estomac est avaler (sauf accident) de la nourriture.

  • La neige qui part du sommet et descend en masse vers la vallée est une avalanche.

Que ce soit un bateau sur une rivière qui se déplace lentement, de la nourriture dans l'œsophage qui va rapidement ou un champ de neige qui déboule furieusement vers la vallée, tous ces objets en mouvements suivent une direction descendante... vers le val... ils vont à val.


According to Le Petit Robert (dépôt légal 2001), Avaler is derived from “aval” (downhill), and got the sense of swallowing only later. “aval” comes from “a” and ”val”, ”val” intern come from the latin “vallis”, which means valley.

“Avalanche”, on the other hand, is a deformation of the word "lavanche” (apparently because of “aval”), which itself comes from the Savoyard word “lavantse” and the Latin “labina”, which means collapse, landslide1.

It would thus seem that any potential common root for “avaler” et ”avalanche” is anterior to Latin.

  1. It’s a translation through French, so quite possibly inaccurate. The only Latin-English dictionary I found only talks of “marsh, fen”, which doesn’t match the other (Googled) sources I could find in French.

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