Words Growing In Your Garden
Professor of Linguistics and Classics
The Pennsylvania State University
ometimes it can be fun, and instructive, to focus on words from a
particular domain or "semantic field", and see how they have developed over time. A "semantic field" is a conceptual or cultural domain that revolves around some common feature of
meaning. Standard examples of such domains are kinship terms (father, mother, sister, brother, etc.), numerals (one, two, three, etc.), and color terminology (black, white, red,
In this etymological installment we are going to take a look at a semantic domain which presents a wide variety of etymological developments. Our semantic field is yard and garden
terms. Now don't you non-gardeners reach for that mouse: gardening or yard terms show some really interesting semantic stuff. Have a look.
A Few Essential Terms/Concepts
- Etymologically native word a word whose history can be traced back to the oldest recoverable period of a language; a word which cannot be shown to be borrowed from
another language (e.g. English "father").
- Borrowing a word which has been imported from another language (e.g. English borrowed "paternal" from Latin).
- Cognates two or more words which descend from a common ancestor (e.g. English "father" and Latin "pater" are cognates).
- Creations (coinages) words which are created at a given point in time; words which do not have an etymology in the standard sense (e.g. English "gobbledygook").
- Etymology the science of word-history.
- IE Indo-European (= in the Indo-European family of languages that developed from PIE, e.g. English, German, Russian).
- PIE Proto-Indo-European, the reconstructed ancestral language of the members of the IE family.
- A colon after a vowel indicates that the vowel was 'long', that is, it is held or pronounced for a longer time than other vowels, as in "cod" versus "cot". Accent marks
have been omitted for simplicity.
Some Etymologically Native "Garden" Words
-bloom, blossom (see "flower" below). Old English blosme, blo:stm, Old High German bluomo, Dutch bloesm. An IE word which is related to the word
-bough Old English bo:g, bo:h, Middle English bow. Middle Low German boog 'shoulder', also 'bow of a ship'. A Germanic word, without wider IE cognates.
-bud a word of uncertain origin, with possible cognates in Middle Low German buddech 'thick, swollen', Old Saxon bu:dil, Old High German pu:til, Middle Dutch buil 'lump,
swelling'. "Bud" might, however, be connected to Old French boter 'to push forth'; if so, it is related to Latin bulla 'bubble' (English "boil", "bouillion") and Greek boubo:n
'swollen gland, groin' (English "bubo").
-grass Old English graes, gaers 'herb, plant, grass', Old Frisian gres, Old High German gras, Old Icelandic gras, Gothic gras. An IE word meaning 'to grow, become green',
seen also in the English words "grow" and "green".
-leaf Old English lef, leaf, Middle English lef, Old Frisian la:f, Old Saxon lo:f, Old Icelandic lauf, Gothic laufs, Dutch loof. An IE word with cognates in Old Irish
lub-gort 'garden' and possibly Latin liber 'book' (< 'inner bark').
-seed (see "sow" below). Old English se:d, earlier sae:d, Old Frisian se:d, Old High German sa:t, Old Icelandic sa:dh, Gothic mana-se:ths
'mankind', all related to the root sae: 'to sow'. An IE word whose most visible relative is Latin se:men 'seed', borrowed into English as "semen", "disseminate", etc.
-shrub Middle English schrubbe, Old English scrybb. An IE word originally meaning 'to cut' with a huge range, including (native) "scrap", "scrape", "scrabble", and the
variant form "scrub". An IE word, with cognates in Latin scro:fa 'sow' or 'digger', and scrobis 'trench'.
-sow (see also "seed"). Middle English sowen, sawan, Old English sa:wan. An IE word which includes among its many descendants English "seed" and Latin se:men, which appears in English in the words "semen',
-stalk Old English stalu 'wooden part', Middle English stalke, Middle Dutch stele, related to Norwegian, Danish stilk. An IE word, with cognates in Greek steleon 'ax
handle' (English "apostle", "diastole"), Armenian steln 'trunk, stalk, twig', Latin stultus 'stupid' (in the sense of 'immovable, rigid'), seen in English "stultify". The root is
also present in English "stout", from Old French estout.
-stem Old English stem, Middle English stem. Cognates in Germanic are Middle Low German and Middle Dutch ste:vene, Old High German stam, Old Icelandic stafn. An IE word
related to Greek stamnos 'pitcher', Old Irish tamun 'tree trunk', Tocharian B sta:m 'tree'. This hugely successful form is related to the word for "stand", and includes among its
borrowed forms in English the words "stamen" and "stasis" (from Greek), "stable" and "establish" (from Latin) and a host of other words which begin with the sounds st-.
-stick Old English sticca 'rod, twig', Middle English stykke, Middle Dutch stecke, Old High German stecko, Old Icelandic stik. An IE word with cognates in Latin
distinguere 'to separate' (in English as "distinguish"), also instigare 'to prod' (English "instigate"), Greek stizein 'to stick' (in English as "stigma", "astigmatism").
-thorn Old English thorn (contained in the tree name "hawthorn"), Old Saxon thorn, Dutch doorn, Old High German dorn, Old Icelandic thorn. An IE word also found in Greek
ternaka 'artichoke', Old Church Slavic trunu 'thorn', and Sanskrit trnam 'blade of grass'.
-tree Old English tre:o, tre:ow, cognate with Old Saxon trio, treo, Old Icelandic tre:, Old Frisian tre:, Norwegian tre. An IE word with cognates in many languages,
including Old Irish daur, which also surfaces in English as "druid" 'a knower of trees', Welsh derwen, Albanian dru, Old Church Slavic drevo (Russian derevo), Greek drus (in
English in "philodendron"), Lithuanian derva, Latin du:rus 'hard' (in English as "durum", "endure").
-weed Old English we:od 'grass, herb, weed', Middle English weed, Old Saxon wiod, Old High German wiota 'herb'. A Germanic word of unknown origin, that is, without
cognates in other known languages, either Indo-European or non-Indo-European.
-yard (see also garden). Old English geard, Old Saxon gard 'enclosure', Old High German gart, Old Icelandic gardhr,
Gothic gards 'house'. The same stem, *ghor-dho-, may be the orgin of Latin hortus 'garden', Greek khortos, Welsh garth. Latin hortus of course provides such well-known terms as
"horticulture" and "orchard"; less obviously "cohort" and "court". Greek khortos furnishes "chorus" and "choir" (special enclosures for singing or dancing). This stem emerged as
Old Slavic gradu 'city, enclosure' (as in Stalingrad) and Russian gorod 'city' and ogorod 'garden', probably borrowed from the neighboring Ostrogoths.
Some "Gardening" Words Borrowed From Greek Or Latin, Or French
-arbor (Arbor Day). Borrowed from Latin arbor, a word of unknown, probably Mediterranean origin (which means that the Romans likely borrowed the word from languages in
the Mediterranean region that are now lost).
-bulb From Latin bulbus 'bulb, onion', which is itself borrowed from Greek bolbos, the name of a kind of hyacinth.
-flower Middle English flo(u)r, from Old French flour, from Latin flo:s, floris 'flower'. An IE word which also gives English "bloom"
and "blossom", which are both etymologically native words. Other related words are "blade" (native) and "foliage" (Latin).
-garden (see also "yard"). Middle English gardyn. "Garden", which is cognate with "yard", enters English via Old
North French gardin, probably from Frankish gardo.
-lawn Middle English launde, lawnde, from Old French launde 'heath', itself borrowed from an early Germanic form which appears in English as "land".
-petal Botanical Latin petalum, from Greek petalon 'leaf' (from an IE word meaning 'to spread out', thus a petal is something that is outspread, flat).
-plant Old English plante from Latin planta 'sprout' The word was borrowed from Latin twice; first into Old English as a surname Plante; later into Middle English (via
Old French) as plante 'sprout, young plant'. Latin planta is derived from
a word meaning 'sole of the foot', from a verb meaning 'to drive into the ground with the foot'.
-trunk Middle English trunke, from Old French tronc, from Latin truncus 'tree trunk' (an IE word). The word trunk meaning 'box, case' is derived from the same Latin word
truncus based on the fact that a trunk is made of wood. The meaning of 'elephant's snout' is also derived from the same word, probably a metaphor based on shape (pipelike shape of
a tree trunk).
Some "Gardening" Words Borrowed From Other Languages
-bark Old Icelandic borkr, Swedish, Danish, Norwegian bark, Middle High German borke. The word was borrowed from a Scandinavian source. The word exists only in Germanic
-branch Middle English braunche, Old French braunche, from Late Latin branca. Possibly borrowed from Gaulish (compare Irish bracc).
-bush Old English busc. This word is most likely a Scandinavian word (see Norwegian, Danish busk), though it is also possible that it enters English via Old French busche
'firewood', perhaps from Latin bosca.
-root Middle English rote, Old English ro:t, borrowed from Old Icelandic. Appears also in English in the word "rutabaga". An IE word related to Latin radix 'root', which
gives English "radical", "radish", and "eradicate". Also contained in the forms "licorice" and in the prefix rhizo- 'root' (as in "rhizoid", "rhizophagous"), from the Greek form
of the root, rhiza.
-vine Middle English vine, from Old French vigne, vine, from Latin vi:nea 'vine', from vi:num 'wine'. This word exists in several IE languages (e.g. Greek oinos, Albanian
ve:ne, Hittite wiyana-, Armenian gini). While it is possible that this word is IE, it is more likely that it was borrowed at a very early stage from a near-Eastern language. A
similar form exists in Hattic windu-, Arabic wain, and Hebrew yayin, suggesting the possibiity of an early loan.
A Few Horticultural Names from Ancient Near-Eastern Languages
-cane Latin canna, from Greek kanna, probably from Semitic (as in Hebrew qane: or Akkadian qanu).
-cassia Latin cassia, from Greek kassia, from Semitic (as in Akkadian kasia).
-cinnamon Latin cinnamomum, cinnamon, from Greek kinnamo:mon, from Semitic, as in Hebrew qinnamown.
-crocus Latin crocus, from Greek krokos, from Akkadian kurka:nu: or Hebrew karko:m.
-cumin Latin cumi:num, from Greek kuminon, from Semitic, as in Hebrew kammo:n, Akkadian kamu:nu.
-henna From Arabic hinna:'.
-myrrh Latin myrrha. Greek murrha, from Semitic (as in Arabic murr).
-nard Latin nardus, from Greek nardos, from Semitic (as in Hebrew nerde.
-sesame Latin se:samum, from Greek se:samon, from Semitic (as in Hebrew shumshom, Akkadian shamashshamu).