Thursday, July 22, 2021

Language Of Confusion: Vegetables, Part II

There are still a lot more vegetables to look at. Seriously, this particular series could go on for weeks.
Don’t know if you’re aware of this or not, but what’s called corn in America isn’t called corn anywhere else. Wheat, oats, and other grains are corn, and American corn is called maize, which is what indigenous Americans called it. There’s no real reason why we Americans insist on calling it corn, especially when you look at the history of the word. In Old English, corn means wheat, from the Proto Germanic kurnam, which means small seed and comes from the Proto Indo European gre-no-, grain, which is unsurprisingly the origin of grain. And for the record, the corn that has to do with the horns of animals, like as part of unicorn? Not related at all. But you know what that word is related to?
Carrot showed up sometime in the sixteenth century, coming from the French carrotte and classical Latin carota. They got that from the Greek karoton, carrot, and that’s thought to come from the above mentioned ker-, which also gave us carat and its variant karat. Because carrots are shaped like horns, and that’s basically what that kind of corn is.
As a word, pea showed up in the seventeenth century from the Middle English pease, and apparently people dropped the S because they thought it sounded plural, even though pease is actually singular. Yeah, language is stupid like that sometimes. It’s from the Old English pise/poise, which is from the Late Latin pisa, and that’s from the classical Latin pisum, peas, which might be from the Greek pison, pea—makes sense, what didn’t the Romans steal from the Greeks? And that’s the earliest we can trace it.
Broccoli is relatively recent, having shown up in the late seventeenth century from the Italian broccoli. Funnily enough, that’s actually a plural of the word broccolo, which is from brocco, meaning a shoot or something protruding. It’s from the classical Latin broccus, the origin word for broach of all things.
Okay, one more. Cabbage showed up in the mid fifteenth century as caboge, from the Old North French caboche and Old French caboce, which both mean head, like a head of cabbage. Those words are actually form the classical Latin caput, head, and Proto Indo European kaput-, which I mentioned not long ago as being the origin word for chapter. Basically, cabbages look like heads, so that’s what we named them.
Online Etymology Dictionary
Google Translate
University of Texas at Austin Linguistic Research Center
University of Texas at San Antonio’s page on Proto Indo European language
University of Texas at Arlington
Tony Jebson’s page on the Origins of Old English
Old English-English Dictionary
Orbis Latinus


  1. Cabbages look like heads. Does cauliflower mean brains then?

  2. The Romans co opted everything from the Greeks. Least imaginative culture in the history of the planet.

  3. I was aware of the corn thing. Maize is so much better. We should call it that. And I had heard the pease story, too. Who eats one pea? It's kind of a plural noun anyway.

  4. Corn on the cob sounds so much better than maize on the cob... And a nice buttery tub of popmaize? I think I see why they changed the name...

  5. Ooh, this is a great topic for a blog post! We just discovered borage growing in our garden, and I had to look it up :p One of those plants I know the name of but don't know anything about!

  6. Now there is some clarity to the corn-maize confusion for me!


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