Though these days the term wordmonger refers to "a writer or speaker who uses language pretentiously or carelessly," please join me in proposing a new meaning. A fishmonger appreciates and promotes fish, therefore, a wordmonger does the same for words.

Thursday, October 8, 2015



Jacquie and Rich are a fabulous singer-songwriter duo called Small Potatoes. They’ve been a big part of the household soundtrack these days, so darned if they didn’t inspire this post.

Potato entered English in the 1560s form the Spanish patata. The Spanish borrowed the word from the people of Haiti, who called their native sweet potato batata. The paler tuber brought to Europe in1565 from Peru is the tuber most first-world folks think of today as the potato: the potato of Idaho, of Ireland, of infamous emigration-inspiring famines, though it wasn’t called a potato until 1590. Oddly, this interloper was referred to both as the Virginia potato (geographic confusion, you say?), or the bastard potato (at the time it had to play second fiddle to the sweet potato).

The word tuber came to English in the 1660s from a Latin word meaning thick underground stem. It’s Proto-Indo-European root tubh-, which meant to swell, also gave us the word thigh.

My preferred term for potatoes is spuds, a word first applied to our friend the potato in New Zealand about 1845. Though nobody’s sure, spud appears to have come to English from Danish or Old Norse, where it meant spear, lance, & spade. That third meaning might certainly lead to spud’s modern meaning, though at some point in the 1680s English speakers also began using the word spud to refer to a short stumpy person or thing. Hmmm.

Have another minute? Please leave a comment about all these potato-related etymologies, or about the musical group, Small Potatoes.

Big thanks to this week’s sources: Wordnik, Etymonline, Merriam Webster, the OED.


  1. LOVE Small Potatoes, but I'd never heard them do that song. Hilarious! My mom's name was Shirley, so she was always stepping into those "surely" jokes. Like the time she phoned a friend whose husband was, unbeknownst to her, named Allen.. When the husband answered the phone, my mom said "this is Shirley Allen" and the hubby said "Yes, it surely is." Hilarity ensued.

    It's fascinating that the word for potato and thigh come from the same place. Because potatoes certainly go to my thighs!

  2. Ahoy Anne,
    Potatoes go to all our thighs; surely they do!