Thursday, August 5, 2021

Language Of Confusion: Vegetables, Part IV

More vegetables! What can I say, there are a lot of them. This should be the last part, at least until I remember something else I should have thrown in here.
I’ve never had cauliflower and I’m never going to. Anyway, it showed up in the late sixteenth century, where it was originally cole florye, from the Italian cavoli fiori, literally cabbage flower. The fiori can be traced all the way back to the origin word for flower, the Proto Indo European bhel-, while the cavoli comes from the classical Latin caulis, which means stems or cabbage, and that’s from the PIE root kehuli-, stem or stalk. Fun fact for this one, the word cole is the old word for cabbage and the reason coleslaw is called coleslaw. It also comes from caulis and kehuli-. Though as you might recall from a few weeks ago, cabbage does not.
Kale—or as my mother calls it, roofing material—is from the same place as cole. It showed up in the fourteenth century, and leafy green vegetables were called “kale” in Scottish and northern English, so the word survived because of there and was transferred to a plant other than cabbage. Though equally disgusting.
Beet comes from the Old English bete, which just means beet or beetroot. It’s from the classical Latin beta, beet, and the origin of that is uncertain, although it might be Celtic. Which wouldn’t surprise me. The Romans stole everything, even their mythology.
A shallot is a small onion (and I etymologized onion long ago), though for some reason, I can never remember what a shallot actually is and have to look it up. It showed up in the mid seventeenth century as short for eschalot, which is from the French ├ęchalote/eschalotte, which is just, you know, shallot. It’s from the Old French eschaliogne, from the Vulgar Latin escalonia, which is the origin word for scallion, another type of onion. It feels weirdly apt considering onion actually comes from the word union.
Finally in our look at vegetables, yam. It showed up as we spell it in the late seventeenth century, although it really showed up earlier, in the late sixteenth century as igname. It’s from either the Portuguese inhame or Spanish igname, and those words are West African in origin. Are yams West African??? I’m going to have to look that up…
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
Tony Jebson’s page on the Origins of Old English
Old English-English Dictionary
Encyclopaedia Britannica


  1. Kale is disgusting. Up there with collard greens.
    Isn't a yam a sweet potato?

  2. You've never had cauliflower? It's delicious. We had it with cheese sauce for dinner last night and one of my favourite things is fried cauliflower. It makes lovely soup too.

  3. Look, there are ways...
    I make awesome kale chips. I love them.
    And mashed cauliflower... with some garlic... mmm...

  4. My mother always made cauliflower with a white sauce and nutmeg.

  5. Not a fan of cauliflower? It's not awful. I found some cauliflower tortilla chips a couple weeks back, and those were great.

  6. Leave the yam and beets out, but the rest I've lately learned to thoroughly enjoy.


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