I’m starting a new diet next week, so healthy food has been on my mind. I’ve been thumbing through the dictionary, searching for a fruit or vegetable with an interesting story. Some of them are a bit lame. Cauliflower, for example, is from Latin and essentially means “stem flower.” Brilliant, no? Yeah… no. Some of them are interesting in a passing sort of way, like pineapple. There ought to be a great story there about a misheard native name, but no. European explorers just thought it looked like a pine cone, which was in those days called a “pine apple.”
People are pretty dull when it comes to naming their produce, so the best I’ve got for you is…
So…broccoli comes from the same root as “brocade.” That’s right. Your favorite dipping vegetable is an etymological cousin to that vest your mother bought you at a local craft fair that you will never, ever wear. The family tree goes like this: “broccoli” is the plural form of the Italian word broccolo, which is both the flowering sprout of a turnip and the diminutive (small-making) form of brocco, which just means “sprout.” Fun food fact: what we call broccoli is actually in the mustard family. The broccoli-esque relative of turnip is now found in your produce section under the name “broccoli raab,” which is a corruption of the Italian broccoli di rapa – little sprouts of turnip.
Normally I love the roots and hates the greens, but turnip is a backwards sort of plant.
Anywho… brocco comes from the Vulgar Latin brocca, meaning “spike.” The visual connection make sense. Most sprouts are fairly spike-like. From here, the AHCD redirects us to “brocade.” The etymology s.v. “brocade” offers no clear insight into the leap of logic that led from “spike” to “twisted thread,” but looking backwards does reveal something about “broccoli.” Brocca came from good old Latin brocchus…which borrowed the word from one of their conquered peoples: the Celts.
Language-shift tennis would quite possibly make the most boring sport in the history of mankind to watch in real-time, but I do love stumbling across evidence of an old game in motion, don’t you?