May I comment on Fruits of Summer (Issue 198, p. 1) ?
Raspy does not refer to the berry [raspberry] but to the characteristic, raspy aspect of the stems. In reality it's
raspbush berry. Another name for it is wood-rasp (Selkirk).
The dialectal names for the gooseberry all point to French groseille:
grozel Scot., grizzle Dmf., grozzle Dmf., groset, grozet, grosset, grosert, grossart Scot., Selk.,
grozart Ayr., gross-berry York., gooseberry Scot., Lanc., Nhp., War., Berk., Huntingdon, Suffolk, Sussex, I.Wight, Dorset, Som. (Wright's English Dialect Dictionary). Many dialectal English plant names are French in origin. In Dorset the
raspberry is called framboise, just like French.
Strawberry: Root (s)tr-k spotted (mostly Slavic).
Czech strakoc spotted cow (many Slavic names of spotted birds and animals with root
str-k), strakati to colour, Ukrainian strokaty spotted, Serbo-Croatian trakast striated,
strokast spotted, German stroh, English straw (from its colour), strawberry a speckled berry, Latin
striga, stria streak, Italian striscia streak, French strié, English striated, Albanian
lule strydhe strawberry. The French fraise and Italian fragola "strawberry" also derive from a root meaning "spotted".
Your site is rich and fascinating.
Regarding raspberry, we can guess a connection between rasp and the
"raspy" or thorny canes of the plant, but it is only a guess without evidence of such a
We did indeed mention that French groseille was
the source for some of the English words for gooseberry. Calvert Watkins, in his American Heritage
Dictionary of Indo-European Roots, goes so far as to suggest that gooseberry derives from a Teutonic
root, *g(e)r- "curving, crooked", perhaps referring simply to the curved shape of the
berries. Grape and grapple come from this same root, which we discussed in Issue
for strawberry, you suggest that English straw derives from its color, while Calvert Watkins believes
it derives from the Indo-European root *ster- "to spread", with straw meaning,
etymologically, "that which is scattered [or spread]". While the supposed Slavic, Germanic and Romance cognates
you mention certainly seem as if they could be related to strawberry, there is simply not enough evidence for
this. Since the Old English form of strawberry suggests that it truly is a compound formed from the Old
English forms of straw and berry, the suggestion that the straw portion comes from a root
meaning "spotted" is perhaps overly optimistic if we accept Watkins' derivation of straw.
I grew up in England and everyone who had a garden used straw under the leaves and berries to prevent the soil being splashed onto the berries when it rained. The berries grow very close to the soil and easily get lost in the dirt if not protected. Also it was said that the straw helped the berries ripen faster because the straw acted like insulation keeping the ripening fruit warmer.
I have practised this myself and I have seen many others grow them this way too.
From Peter Noone:
I take issue with your definition of strawberries.
Until quite recent times, strawberries were traditionally grown in a raised
bed with the plants protected from frost by bundles of STRAW heaped around them.
Hence the name!
Unfortunately, gardening practices, especially modern ones, do not an etymology
make. Strawberries grew wild before being cultivated, and they were likely named as wild plants, so the
practice of using straw in cultivating them does not explain their name.
From Ron Vanderwal:
Regarding gooseberries in your issue 198, they are universally referred to as
kiwi fruit in
Australia and New Zealand (and probably other islands in the Pacific as well). The term appears as an entry in Australia's Macquarie
Dictionary. In popular knowledge, they grew so well in Aotearoa New Zealand that they lost their original name in favour of a commercial identity.
Not so. You are thinking of the "Chinese gooseberry" which, despite the
gooseberry in its name, is a completely unrelated fruit. In the 1950s New Zealand fruit growers, concerned that an
association with Red China might deter U.S. buyers, cunningly renamed the Chinese gooseberry the kiwi
From A Reader:
From Sez You in Issue 198...
Here and I thought SWAG meant: Scientific Wild Assed Guess
Rather appropriate here, but yet another apocryphal explanation of the origin of the word
Apocryphal or not, I've been working in Software Engineering for 22 years, and since my first day of employment the term SWAG was used for an off-the-top-of-your-head estimate of time and effort for a project - a term everyone knew to mean a Scientific Wild-Ass Guess.
By the way, a real estimate takes some amount of preparation, and occurs at or after an estimeeting (contraction of "estimate
From Kelvin Davies:
I just read your site for the first time today and jolly good it is.
However, I read a discussion about the word
SWAG and it seems to me that the various explanations don't cover the use I had always been familiar with.
As a kid growing up in the 1950s in the United Kingdom, swag was always meant to be the loot in a robber's sack.
In comics, burglars etc. would always be seen running away from the scene of a robbery wearing a striped vest and mask and carrying a sack over one shoulder with the word
SWAG written on it (known as a Swag Bag).
It is also often used now to mean ill gotten gains.
From Brad Daniels:
SWAG is actually a common acronym in engineering circles, or at least in
software development. It's quite distinct from the other uses of "swag". E.g., "I sized the table at 2MB, but that's a bit of a SWAG."
The WAG unquestionably stands for Wild-Assed-Guess, though I've seen both Standard and Scientific for the "S". I've also seen the tamer
form "SomeWhat-of-A-Guess", but that's about as accurate as Situation Normal, All Fouled Up.
Thanks for that, gentlemen. The swag we
were discussing is in no way related to this slangy acronym, but it is certainly good to know about it.
Interestingly, Mike has been a software engineer in both the UK and US for many years and has never run across
From Ian Rowlands:
I don't know if this will help but I remember reading that at one time the Archbishop of Canterbury ran a string of brothels on the South Bank and the "ladies" were known as Winchester's Geese, after him.
From Peter V. Moor:
During one of Eugen Weber’s “Western Tradition” video lectures he mentions that the brothels of Pompeii were known as
nonarii. I think he said it was because they opened their doors at the ninth hour. Could this be the elusive connexion between the brothel and Shakespeare’s
It was actually the Bishop of Winchester who owned brothels in Southwark, just outside
the City of London on the south bank of the River Thames. The town Winchester being famous for its geese, the ladies
who worked in the Bishop of Winchester's establishments were called Winchester geese. In Shakespeare's day
the expression to be bitten by a Winchester goose meant "to contract a venereal disease".
It is rather unlikely that a Pompeiian nickname for brothels would make it to English,
especially since Pompei was not unearthed until recently (we are not sure if the information on nonarii came
to light during excavations at Pompei or was discovered elsewhere). But it is fascinating, nonetheless!