black cloud, blue straw
June 26, 2010 Leave a comment
With berry season upon us, why don’t we talk about them already. In English, many words for berries have two roots (botanical pun is not intended), one of which is, not surprisingly, “berry”. (Similarly, in German they have “Beere”.) But let’s look at the variable roots in berry names. Take strawberry. Merriam-Webster says:
Etymology: Middle English, from Old English strēawberige, from strēaw straw + berige berry; perhaps from the appearance of the achenes on the surface
According to Wiktionary, it is named so
perhaps from the straw put beneath the berry bushes during the cultivation process
Before I came to England and saw the said straw for myself, I thought that “straw” in English word has an entirely different origin. When I was a child, we used to pick up wild strawberries and put them on a stalk of grass like beads. Maybe the English were using straw for this purpose? Surely wild strawberries do not need any straw to grow. Yet another theory says that
it comes from “stray” or “strew”, designating the spread of the plant’s runners (slender tendrils), in that in an unchecked field of strawberries the plants appear to have been strewn across the ground with their runners straying everywhere.
Convincing? Not really. At least, The Concise Oxford Dictionary honestly states that
reason for the name unkn.
It is well kn. though that German Erdbeere, Dutch aardbei, Swedish jordgubbe and Russian земляника have nothing to do with straw: these are “earth berries”, because strawberries grow close to the ground. Makes much more sense.
|French||mûre||plaquebière||groseille à maquereau||framboise||fraise|
|Spanish||mora||mora de los pantanos||grosella espinosa||frambuesa||fresa|
The names of blackberry and blueberry need no special explanation. Apparently, lingonberry is kn. as “redberry” in Labrador. But what is “bilberry”? The best I could find is Webster’s “probably of Scandinavian origin”. Blåbär, Swedish for bilberry, literally means “blue berry”. As for blueberry, it is amerikanskt blåbär. We have to blame Vikings for the confusion.
What about raspberry? Webster says
English dial. rasp raspberry + English berry
It makes “berry” kind of redundant here, right? (Cf. lingon, Swedish for lingonberry.)
In Russian, many berries have names ending with –ка but they (like vodka) are not diminutives.
|Dutch||blauwe bosbes||blauwe bes||veenbes||rode bosbes|
|German||Heidelbeere; Blaubeere||Amerikanische Heidelbeere||Moosbeere||Preißelbeere|
|Italian||mirtillo nero||mirtillo americano||mirtillo palustre||mirtillo rosso|
|Portuguese||mirtilo, uva-do-monte||vacínio||arando||arando vermelho|
|Spanish||mirtilo; arándano negro||arándano azul||arándano agrio||arándano rojo|