Thursday, September 16, 2021

Language Of Confusion: Grains

We’re looking at types of grains this week, an idea I’ve had for quite a while now—since my look at vegetables. Time to finally see why we call them the way we do. Although I’m sure there won’t be any satisfying answers.
Grain showed up in the early fourteenth century, meaning pretty much what it does today. It comes from the Old French grain/grein, from the classical Latin granum, which just means grain, so no big leaps here. The weirdest thing about this word is how the word engrained is from the same place, but with a vastly different evolution. It showed up in the late fourteenth century where it meant to dye a fabric red with cochineal. It comes from the French phrase en graine, where graine is the seed of a plant. Now, you might be asking why they’d use “seed of a plant” when cochineal means bugs. Well apparently they thought it was actually berries. Because of that mistake, engrained basically used to mean fast-dyed, and now it’s really used in a metaphorical sense.
Wheat comes from the Old English hwaete, which is just wheat spelled differently. That’s from the Proto Germanic hwaitjaz, from the Proto Indo European kwoid-yo-, from kweid-/kweit-, to shine, the origin word for white. I guess wheat can look kind of white…
Rice showed up in the mid thirteenth century as ris. It comes from the Old French ris, from the Italian riso, from the classical Latin oriza, from the Greek oryza, all of which just mean rice. The origin gets a bit murky there, but it’s thought to be derived from some Indo source, leading all the way back to the Sanskrit vrihi-s.
Rye comes from the Old English ryge (rye), which is then from the Proto Germanic ruig. That one is derived somehow from the Proto Indo European wrughyo-, which means rye and… I guess that does have an R and a Y in it, so why not?
Oat comes from the Middle English ote and Old English ate, amusingly enough. Of course before that, no one’s sure where it’s from. One theory is it’s from the Old Norse eitill, which means nodule, and I guess that could be it, though who knows? This is etymology. It’s just as likely those aren’t related at all.
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


  1. Well, at least until oat they were straight forward.

  2. I wonder what people from the Orient call rice?

  3. Interesting how words morph in their meaning, isn't it?

  4. Considering how much of a staple those are, I'm not surprised there isn't that much change in them.

  5. Flour is white?
    After you bleach it...?


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