Origins, Meanings, and Usage of the English LanguageBook - 1996
Folk etymology, that charming process of word formation that substitutes a familiar sound or idea for an archaic one ('rod-iron' for wrought iron), has worked overtime in our fields, forests, and gardens. Samuel Johnson and a lot of others thought gooseberry derived naturally from the fact that its sauce commonly accompanied a roast goose; later etymologists discovered that it earlier had been called a groseberry, after the French groseille, and that there was nothing anserine in its background except wishful tinkering. Similarly, asparagus was, and often still is, called 'sparrow-grass', and for nearly two centuries the cucumber bore the bovine name of 'cowcumber'... The dandelion is a straightforward phonetic rendition of French dent de lion, or 'lion's tooth.' It's curious that, while we borrowed a French expression based on the weed's appearance, the French settled for a name related to quite another characteristic. The French word is pissenlit, which reflects the diuretic properties of the dandelion roots that used to be dried, ground up, and mixed with coffee. In fact, pisse-abed is given as an English alternative by John Gerarde in his 1597 Herball, or General Historie of Plants, and pissabed salad, containing dandelion greens, was once popular in the United States.
Publisher: Toronto : University of Toronto Press, 1996
Branch Call Number: 422/COC