Some Sicilian authors have used the expression "arco di Noè" to refer to rainbows. See, for instance, this tale by Giovanni Emanuele Bidera.

In Sicilian, a rainbow is called archinuè / arch'i Nuè / arcu di Nuè, following the trend of many Romance languages naming it arc de [religious figure].

Is there any connection between this term and Noah's Ark (L'arca di Noè)? Or is the similarity just a coincidence?

  • 1
    Anyhow, I'd say that the ark itself is not involved here, but rather the rainbow in Genesis 9, especially 9:12-16.
    – DaG
    Commented May 2, 2018 at 15:01
  • @DaG I wrote that last part because this thread (linked in the Help: On Topic section of the site): Are questions about dialects on topic? gave conflicting answers about whether this type of question would or wouldn't be considered on topic (and, you have to admit, it's more likely to find someone also interested in/having knowledge of Sicilian on an Italian language forum than a Portuguese one).
    – iacopo
    Commented May 2, 2018 at 15:10
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    @DaG: Nevertheless, a Google search gives some occurrences of "arco di Noè", for instance, this one, probably by Sicilian authors who write in Italian.
    – Charo
    Commented May 2, 2018 at 15:12
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    Indeed, looking for “arco di Noè”, something is also found in I nomi del mondo: santi, demoni, folletti e le parole perdute by Gian Luigi Beccaria, but I can't link to the partial “snippets” shown by Google books.
    – DaG
    Commented May 2, 2018 at 15:21
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    @DaG: This one.
    – Charo
    Commented May 2, 2018 at 15:28

2 Answers 2


Given its superficial similarity and that all examples of its use on Google Books appear to be from Sicilian authors, it seems that Arco di Noè clearly derives from the Sicilian arcu di Nuè.

Researching a bit further, it seems another Sicilian term for rainbow is arcu di Nuvè.

Contrary to the claimed etymology on wiktionary ("arcu" + "Nuè"), the following Wikipedia pages claim that archinuè is in fact a contraction of this other term:

Archinuè (lu nomu veni a diri "Arch'i Nuè", cuntrazzioni di "Arcu di Nuvè")

Il nome deriva dalla parola siciliana Arch'i Nuè (forma contratta di Arcu di Nuè) che significa letteralmente "arco di Noè" (cioè l'arcobaleno).

So it seems that the origin of the term may be unrelated, but the modern (contracted) form may have been influenced by either the phrase L'arca di Nuè2 or the rainbow (arco) sent by God as a symbol to Noah in Genesis 9:3

  • Arcu di Nuvè (Arc of Clouds?1)
    • arcunè
    • Arch'i Nuè 2
      • archinuè
      • arcu di Nuè 2


1. nuvulusu = cloudy 1 2
2. Possible backformation by analogy with L'arca di Nuè.

3. In many European languages, the term for rainbow is "Arc of [religious figure]". As per the comments above, the corrupted term name may have been influenced by Genesis 9, in which Noah is explicitly associated with a rainbow:

.יג אֶת-קַשְׁתִּי, נָתַתִּי בֶּעָנָן; וְהָיְתָה לְאוֹת בְּרִית, בֵּינִי וּבֵין הָאָרֶץ

13 I have set My bow in the cloud, and it shall be for a token of a covenant between Me and the earth.

.יד וְהָיָה, בְּעַנְנִי עָנָן עַל-הָאָרֶץ, וְנִרְאֲתָה הַקֶּשֶׁת, בֶּעָנָן

14 And it shall come to pass, when I bring clouds over the earth, and the bow is seen in the cloud,

טז וְהָיְתָה הַקֶּשֶׁת, בֶּעָנָן; וּרְאִיתִיהָ, לִזְכֹּר בְּרִית עוֹלָם, בֵּין אֱלֹהִים, וּבֵין
.כָּל-נֶפֶשׁ חַיָּה בְּכָל-בָּשָׂר אֲשֶׁר עַל-הָאָרֶץ

16 And the bow shall be in the cloud; and I will look upon it, that I may remember the everlasting covenant between God and every living creature of all flesh that is upon the earth.'

Further, Usi e costumi, credenze e pregiudizi del popolo siciliano, Volume 2, by Giuseppe Pitrè (1889) claims on p55:

VI. L’ Arcobaleno.

Arcu di Nuè; darc d’ Nuè (S. Fratello); arci ’i Diu (Naso).

Quando il mondo era per finire, Dio creò l’arcu, e disse: “ Chi si vuol salvare, salisca su quest’ arco „. Coloro che salirono, si salvarono (Montevago). (Evidentemente, qui si confonde l’arcobaleno con l’arca, e si fa salire su quello coloro che salirono sull’area nel diluvio, secondo la Scrittura).

  • Do you have any source that aren't Wikimedia sites? They aren't always exactly reliable in themselves, and here, as you point out, they even contradict each other.
    – DaG
    Commented May 2, 2018 at 15:09
  • @DaG Nope, unfortunately. I could find powerfully little info about this, hence asking the question here.
    – iacopo
    Commented May 2, 2018 at 15:12
  • Oh, sorry, I didn't notice you were the OP.
    – DaG
    Commented May 2, 2018 at 15:19
  • Which "many European languages"? Here I can identify this idiom only in Catalan/Valencian and Welsh. Are there more? Commented May 18, 2019 at 9:32
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    @FedericoPoloni see the notes/images at the bottom of this answer on the Spanish SE.
    – iacopo
    Commented May 18, 2019 at 9:47

The book I nomi del mondo: santi, demoni, folletti e le parole perdute by Gian Luigi Beccaria, pointed out by @DaG, seems to suggest (unfortunately I can't read the whole page) that, in some languages, the naming of the word "rainbow" has its origin in Genesis 9, 2 and following. In the wording of this page:

8 Then God said to Noah and to his sons with him: 9 “I now establish my covenant with you and with your descendants after you 10 and with every living creature that was with you —the birds, the livestock and all the wild animals, all those that came out of the ark with you— every living creature on earth. 11 I establish my covenant with you: Never again will all life be destroyed by the waters of a flood; never again will there be a flood to destroy the earth.”

12 And God said, “This is the sign of the covenant I am making between me and you and every living creature with you, a covenant for all generations to come: 13 I have set my rainbow in the clouds, and it will be the sign of the covenant between me and the earth. 14 Whenever I bring clouds over the earth and the rainbow appears in the clouds, 15 I will remember my covenant between me and you and all living creatures of every kind. Never again will the waters become a flood to destroy all life. 16 Whenever the rainbow appears in the clouds, I will see it and remember the everlasting covenant between God and all living creatures of every kind on the earth.”

17 So God said to Noah, “This is the sign of the covenant I have established between me and all life on the earth.”

According to Beccaria's book, the rainbow established by God as a sign of the covenant made with Noah is the origin of the naming of the word "rainbow" in some languages: in Welsh, it's called “bwa cyfamod” wich can be literally translated as "covenant bow"; in a similar way, in French there exists the naming "alliance du bon Dieu". That also seems to be the origin of the expression "arco di Noè", used in Sicily, which is also present in Sardinia and in Marche.

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