black cloud, blue straw

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.

English blackberry cloudberry gooseberry raspberry strawberry
Dutch braam kruipbraam kruisbes framboos aardbei
Finnish karhunvatukka lakka, hilla karviainen vadelma mansikka
French mûre plaquebière groseille à maquereau framboise fraise
German Brombeere Moltebeere Stachelbeere Himbeere Erdbeere
Italian rovo camemoro uva spina lampone fragola
Portuguese amora-preta; amora-silvestre amora-branca-silvestre groselheira framboesa morango
Russian ежевика морошка крыжовник малина земляника
Spanish mora mora de los pantanos grosella espinosa frambuesa fresa
Swedish björnbär hjortron krusbär hallon jordgubbe

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.

English bilberry blueberry cranberry lingonberry
Dutch blauwe bosbes blauwe bes veenbes rode bosbes
Finnish mustikka pensasmustikka karpalo puolukka
French myrtille bleuet canneberge airelle rouge
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
Russian черника голубика клюква брусника
Spanish mirtilo; arándano negro arándano azul arándano agrio arándano rojo
Swedish blåbär amerikanskt blåbär tranbär lingon
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