Thursday, February 10, 2022

Language Of Confusion: Vegetation, Part II

More stuff that grows out of the ground!
Shrub comes from the Old English scrybb, which means a woody plant—I’m not sure how it was pronounced or if that’s a hard C or a soft one. It actually predates shrubbery, which showed up in 1748 and is just shrub + -ery. As for its origins… no one knows. It might be Scandinavian, as there are similar words in Danish and Norwegian (skrubbe—as in, scrub). But hell, scrub, as in what you call bushes, might not even be from there. Words are so stupid sometimes.
Foliage showed up in the mid fifteenth century, possibly the first of these words with an actual date. Although amusingly enough, it was actually spelled ffoylage, and that is spelled just so much cooler. It also has a murky origin, though it’s probably related to the Old French feuille, which means foliage, and the classical Latin folium, leaf.
Sprig showed up in the fifteenth century and its origins are absolutely positively—I’m just kidding, they’re not sure about this one either. It’s probably related to an Old English word, spraec, which means shoot or twig here. And with an unknown origin.
Sprout comes from the Old English asprutan, to sprout. It’s from the Proto Germanic sprut-, from the Proto Indo European spreud-, from sper-, to stew. Well, at least this one has an origin. I was beginning to think none of these did!
Finally today, shoot. Like an offshoot, not firing a gun. Though the two words are somehow related. Shoot the plant showed up in the mid fifteenth century, and it came from shoot the verb, though come on, hurling missiles at something also means a young plant? Seriously, where’s the logic in that one? Okay, maybe I can see it being thrown off of a bigger plant, but come on! As for shoot’s origin, it comes from the Old English sceotan, like I said, to hurl missiles at. That’s from the Proto Germanic skeutanan, from the Proto Indo European skeud-, to shoot or throw.
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


  1. Offshoot must fall in with that last one.

  2. Maybe shoot is because new plants shoot up out of the ground.

  3. I mean, some words had to just have been sounds that someone decided meant something. And speech predates writing. So, it would make sense that some words just kind of came from nowhere? I don't know.

  4. This gets complicated. Which is often the case.


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