Sunday, 5 July 2015

Why are potatoes called 'spuds'?

Image result for potatoesWith temperatures reaching record highs, many of us may have retreated to the shade to keep cool. ‘Shade’ was originally thought of as the barest form of shelter, deriving from Middle English ‘schudde’. Many of our gardens link to this older meaning if we have a shed in our gardens. This is because the word ‘shed’ is a dialect variant of ‘schudde’. If we think about it literally, our sheds offer us some guarantee that there will be a shady spot in our gardens.

Another green-fingered word is our humble ‘potato’ which originates from the Andes. ‘Spud’ is a common way to refer to the vegetable and first appeared in English around 1440. One theory suggests that the potato began to be called a spud because of a nineteenth-century activist group called ‘The Society for the Prevention of an Unwholesome Diet’; their aim to keep potatoes out of Britain. However, linguists believe that this is an unlikely theory as to how we started calling potatoes ‘spuds’ because forming words from acronyms began much later.


The second, probably accurate theory is that ‘spud’ used to refer to a short dagger, from the Dutch word ‘spyd’ or Latin ‘spad’, meaning sword – the root word of ‘spade’. The original ‘spud’ therefore referred to the instrument used to dig up potatoes. Over time, as the word became more common, ‘spud’ was used to refer to the vegetable the spade dug up rather than the instrument itself, hence why today our tenacious potatoes are called ‘spuds’. 

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