The Linguistic Orchard: Origin Of The Names Of Common Vegetables

Potahto-Potato: These are two different ways to pronounce one word, but actually, it is also an idiom, an expression that means it doesn’t matter for us. But is it really, though? Have you ever wondered why a potato is called so or why a carrot may be named that while chomping on one?  

Exploring the names of common vegetables is like taking a journey through history and cultures around the world. The origins of these names often reveal fascinating stories about trade, migration, linguistic evolution, and cultural exchange. From the ancient languages of Latin and Greek to the indigenous tongues of the Americas and the vibrant languages of the Middle East and Asia, the names of our everyday vegetables are a mosaic of human civilization. 

Here, we continue to unravel the etymological tapestry with ten more common vegetables and the stories behind their names.  

1. Tomato - The name comes from the Nahuatl (Aztec language) word "tomatl," which was then adopted into Spanish as "tomate" before making its way into English. 

2. Potato - This vegetable's name also has roots in the Nahuatl word "potatl." It entered the English language through Spanish ("patata"), which likely blended with the Taino word "batata" (sweet potato). 

3. Carrot - The word "carrot" is derived from the Middle French "carotte," which in turn comes from the Latin "carota." The Latin term traces back to the Greek "karoton," where the initial 'k' sound was influenced by the Indo-European root "*ker-" meaning "horn," referring to the shape of the vegetable. 

4. Onion - This name comes from the Middle English "onion," "unyun," which was borrowed from the Old French "oignon." This word is derived from the Latin "unio," meaning "single" or "one," reflecting the onion's single bulb. 

5. Lettuce - The word "lettuce" comes from the Old French "laitues," derived from the Latin "lactuca," which is related to "lac" (milk), referring to the milky juice of the plant. 

6. Cucumber - The name "cucumber" originates from the Old French "cocombre," which comes from the Latin "cucumis," reflecting its adoption from earlier civilizations. 

7. Spinach - This term comes from the Middle English "spinache," which was borrowed from the Old French "espinache." The French term is derived from the Arabic "isfanākh," which entered European languages during the medieval period. 

8. Pepper - The name for bell peppers and other similar vegetables comes from the Middle English "peper," borrowed from the Old English "pipor," which traces back to the Latin "piper," borrowed from the Sanskrit "pippali" (long pepper). 

9. Eggplant - This vegetable's name in English comes from its white, egg-shaped varieties known to Europeans in the 18th century. The term "eggplant" specifically refers to the shape and color of these early varieties. 

10. Broccoli - The name "broccoli" comes from the Italian plural of "broccolo," which refers to "the flowering crest of a cabbage," and is derived from "brocco," meaning "small nail" or "sprout." 

11. Zucchini - This vegetable's name comes from the Italian "zucchina," the diminutive of "zucca" meaning "squash." "Zucchina" translates to "little squash" in English, reflecting its origin and size. 

12. Kale - The name "kale" comes from the Scottish "kail," which was used to refer to a type of cabbage. It likely originates from the Old Norse "kál," reflecting the vegetable's popularity in colder climates. 

13. Beet - The word "beet" comes from the Old English "bēte," which is derived from the Latin "beta." This simple and direct lineage reflects the long cultivation history of the beet in Europe. 

14. Celery - This name comes from the French "céleri," which is derived from the Italian "sedano," based on the Latin "selinon." The term traces back to Ancient Greek "selinon," which was mentioned in Homer's epics. 

15. Radish - The term "radish" comes from the Middle English "radiche," which is a variant of "radish," itself derived from the Old English "rædic." The root of the word is from the Latin "radix," meaning "root." 

16. Pumpkin - The word "pumpkin" comes from the Greek "pepon," meaning "large melon." The term passed through Latin as "peponem" and then into Middle French as "pompon," which was adopted into English. 

17. Garlic - "Garlic" comes from the Old English "garleac," a compound of "gar" (spear) and "leac" (leek), referring to the shape of the cloves. 

18. Asparagus - This word comes from the Latin "asparagus," which is borrowed from the Greek "asparagos," meaning "to spring up." However, in classical times, it often referred to any tender shoot picked and savored while still young. 

19. Cauliflower - The name "cauliflower" derives from the Latin "caulis" (cabbage) and "floris" (flower), indicating the plant's resemblance to a cabbage with a flower. 

20. Squash - This term comes from the Narragansett Native American word "askutasquash," which was documented by early settlers in New England. The word originally meant "eaten raw or uncooked," although the vegetables we call squash are usually cooked. 

These origins reflect a fascinating mix of linguistic influences, including Latin, Greek, Arabic, Nahuatl, and Sanskrit, showcasing the global journey of vegetable names through trade, exploration, and cultural exchanges. 

Each of these names carries echoes from the past, telling stories of the vegetable's journey from wild plant to cultivated staple, and tracing the paths of human migration and trade that have shaped our culinary and linguistic landscapes. 

As we conclude our exploration into the etymology of vegetable names, it's fascinating to consider the journey of the humble brinjal, a vegetable known by many names across the globe. The name "brinjal" itself is derived from the Arabic "bāḏinjān," which found its way into English through Portuguese and other European languages. This linguistic journey is a testament to the rich tapestry of cultural exchanges that have shaped our culinary vocabularies. 

In various parts of the world, the brinjal is known by different names, reflecting a diversity of linguistic and cultural influences. In American and Canadian English, it's commonly called "eggplant," a name that originated from the white, egg-shaped varieties encountered by Europeans in the 18th century. In British English, it is often referred to as "aubergine," which comes from the French word of the same spelling, itself derived from the Catalan "albergínia" and the Arabic "al-bāḏinjān." 

"Al-bāḏinjān" is an Arabic term where "al-" is the definite article "the," and "bāḏinjān" refers to the vegetable known in English as the eggplant, aubergine, or brinjal. The word "bāḏinjān" itself likely traces its roots back further to languages like Persian or Sanskrit, reflecting the long history and widespread cultivation of this vegetable across many regions. In Sanskrit, the word for eggplant is "vātiṅgaṇa," which could have influenced the Persian "bādenjān" or "bādingān," and subsequently the Arabic term. This etymological journey highlights the extensive trade networks and cultural exchanges that have historically connected South Asia, the Middle East, and the Mediterranean regions. 

These different names – brinjal, eggplant, aubergine – not only tell the story of a vegetable's journey through various cultures and cuisines but also highlight the interconnectedness of our world. The brinjal's myriad names serve as a reminder of our shared history, the movements of peoples and goods, and the blending of traditions that enrich our lives in the most delicious ways. Through the simple act of naming a vegetable, we uncover the layers of human experience, from ancient trade routes to the modern global exchange, all of which continue to shape our language and our meals today. As Akbar and the Mughals supposedly called it baingan which accordingly to some sources comes from "bain   gun", which means " sans nutritional value" as they are predominantly meat eaters. This is an interesting apocryphal story but definitely worth its salt.