Thursday, July 29, 2021

Language Of Confusion: Vegetables, Part III

Ready for more of this?
Celery showed up in the mid seventeenth century as sellery, which in my opinion is the superior spelling and we should go back to it. And yes, there was a word for before then—two in fact, the Middle English ache and selinum. It comes from the French céleri, which is thought to be from a particular Italian dialect, where it is seleri. That’s from the Late Latin selinon, which is from the Greek selinon, an old word for parsley. I guess this one makes sense. Except for why the French had to ruin it by spelling it with a C.
Asparagus showed up in the late fourteenth century as aspergy, and I just find that word hilarious. It comes from the Old English sparage, which is from the classical Latin asparagus, which yes, means that this word actually became more like its origin word over the years. I guess there’s a first time for everything. Fun fact, aspartame comes from asparagus. I mean the word, although the chemical is found in asparagus, too.
Bean comes from the Old English bean, which means… bean. That’s from the Proto Germanic bauno, and its origin before that is unknown, although it might be related to the Proto Indo European bha-bha-, which means broad bean. But you know etymology rarely makes sense.
Turnip showed up in the sixteenth century as turnepe. Its origin is kind of weird. First of all, it’s related to turn. It’s actually a combination of turn and the Middle English nepe, so turn + nepe = turnip. Nepe is from the Old English naep and classical Latin napus, which means turnip. As to why they decided to throw turn in there, I have no idea.
This one showed up all the way back in the late fourteenth century as cucomer, coming from the Old French cocombre and classical Latin cucumerem, which just means cucumber. Fun fact of this one, cucumber replaced the word eorðaeppel, which literally means earth-apple.
One more today because these have been pretty short. Radish comes from the Middle English radich and Old English raedic, which just means radish. It’s from the classical Latin radicem, which meant radish, but also more generally root, and is from the Proto Indo European wrad-, branch or root. Always weird when the etymology is logical.
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. This comment has been removed by the author.

  2. Beans are a vile, despicable, repugnant weed. Ick!

  3. I read somewhere that most fruit started out as apple-something. It was an interesting article. Funny how words get to us. (And just weird that asparagus went full circle.)

  4. Potatoes are called earth apples in French - pomme de terre.

  5. Wow... you mostly picked horrible vegetables today.
    I don't even.

  6. The city I live in, Bengaluru, formerly called by the Anglicized variant Bangalore, has a connection with beans.

    The legend has it that the place got its name from 'boiled beans'. Apparently, the king and his men lost their way; and they found a woman who welcomed them by serving the customary boiled beans (Benda-kaalu).

    Quite pleased, the king began referring to the place as Benda-kaalu-uru. Uru means home. Thus the name Bengaluru, which during the British Raj, got Anglicized to Bangalore. And, now it's back to its original name of Bengaluru.


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