Thursday, February 3, 2022

Language Of Confusion: Vegetation, Part I

This is basically another redux post since I’m pretty sure I’ve done these at some point, but I can’t begin to make myself care. It wasn’t in the past few years, so it’s good.
Plant comes from the Old English plante, so plant with an e on the end. That’s from the classical Latin planta, plant and that’s thought to be from the verb plantare which means to plant but also “to drive in with the feet”. I mean… that has to be where it’s from, right? You’re not exactly driving them in with your feet, but I can see seeds being planted that way. Anyway, plantare comes from the Proto Indo European plat-, to spread. Also, fun fact, plat- is also where plantar, as in the sole of the foot, comes from.
Bush comes from the Old English bysc, which was actually used in place names rather than being an actual word for plant life. Back when the British Empire had colonies in the mid seventeenth century Americas, an uncleared area was referred to as a bush, and somehow it started to refer to just bushes. Anyway, bysc comes from the West Germanic busk, a bush or thicket, from the Medieval Latin busca. No one knows where it came from before that, but it’s thought to be from some Germanic source. It’s just weird because usually it’s the Germanic languages stealing from Latin rather than the other way around.
Now let’s look at brush, which I’m sure isn’t related at all, because this is etymology. It showed up in the mid fourteenth century, coming from the Anglo French bruce, brushwood. That’s from the Old North French broche and Old French broce, and before that it was the Gallo Roman brocia. Is it related to the brush that you use on hair? Well, maybe. That word was also broce in Old French. But it also might be from the word brucus, which means heather, and so it being the same as the other brush might just be coincidence. And that totally never happens with etymology.
Tree comes from the Old English treo/treow, which means tree or a plant made of wood. It’s from the Proto Germanic trewam and an be traced to the Proto Indo European drew-o-, which is from deru-, to be firm or solid. The fun fact for this one is that the word tree used to refer to oak trees specifically because that’s how important they were.
Finally today, seed comes from the Old English saed, seed of course. It comes from the Proto Germanic sediz, from the Proto Indo European se-ti-, from se-, to sow. How refreshingly straightforward. I can’t even think of a joke to end this on.
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
Dictionary of Medieval Latin
Encyclopaedia Britannica
Fordham University


  1. Bush in the context of place is still a used term.

  2. I imagine agriculture is so important to society that those words have been around a while, and haven't much changed much.

  3. I like how the last one came full circle. So satisfying.


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