February 15th, 2020

blackhat

Tree name pondering (random, botanical escape)

Guessing at whether trees were native to Northern Europe by how many syllables are in the English word


* ash: Old English æsce, aexe, of Germanic origin; related to Dutch as and German Asche.
* beech: Old English bēce, of Germanic origin; related to Latin fagus ‘beech’, Greek phagos ‘edible oak’.
* birch: Old English bierce, birce, of Germanic origin; related to German Birke.
* elm: Old English, of Germanic origin; related to German dialect Ilm, and Swedish and Norwegian alm.
* oak: Old English āc, of Germanic origin; related to Dutch eik and German Eiche.
* pine: Old English, from Latin pinus, reinforced in Middle English by Old French pin.
* yew: Old English īw, ēow, of Germanic origin.

Nordic but not Anglo-Saxon trees

* fir: late Middle English: probably from Old Norse fyri- (recorded in fyriskógr ‘fir wood’).

The two syllable tree names that appear to have Anglo-saxon word roots are under-story trees

* apple: Old English æppel, of Germanic origin; related to Dutch appel and German Apfel. Probably originally for Malus sylvestris and then reappropriated with central Asian apples made their way to England.
* elder: Old English ellærn; related to Middle Low German ellern, elderne. Probably Sambucus racemosa
* hazel: Old English hæsel, of Germanic origin; related to Dutch hazelaar ‘hazel tree’, hazelnoot ‘hazelnut’, and German Hasel, from an Indo-European root shared by Latin corylus.

One syllable tress not native to northern Europe

* fig: Middle English: from Old French figue, from Provençal fig(u)a, based on Latin ficus.
* plane: late Middle English: from Old French, from Latin platanus, from Greek platanos, from platus ‘broad’. Looks like prior to 1492, just the Platanus orientalis would have been known to English speakers.

Two syllable trees not native to northern Europe

* cedar: Old English, from Old French cedre or Latin cedrus, from Greek kedros.
* cherry: Middle English: from Old Northern French cherise, from medieval Latin ceresia, based on Greek kerasos ‘cherry tree, cherry’.
* chestnut: early 16th century: from Old English chesten (from Old French chastaine, via Latin from Greek kastanea) + nut.
* cypress: Middle English: from Old French cipres, from late Latin cypressus, from Greek kuparissos.


I find i am most curious about two syllable maple: it doesn't appear likely that there were many significant native maples to Northern Europe

* maple: Old English mapel (as the first element of mapeltrēow, mapulder ‘maple tree’); used as an independent word from Middle English.

"The type species of the genus is the sycamore maple, Acer pseudoplatanus, the most common maple species in Europe." (More on this as i grouse about the word "sycamore") Not native to norther Europe but "native to Central Europe and Western Asia, from France eastwards to Ukraine, northern Turkey and the Caucasus and southwards in the mountains of northern Spain and Italy."
https://maplesociety.org/sites/default/files/deJongWorldwideMapleDiversity-vf.pdf

The tree name i find most annoying is sycamore. I grew up with the sweet gum, Liquidambar styraciflua, being called sycamore. When i moved to Philadelphia i became aware the American plane tree was called sycamore more commonly. (It is a tree much less prevalent in young southern American woods). Then i found in England sycamore belonged to a maple tree. And in the bible it refers to a fig. So in MY list of trees, sycamore is a useless term and just means that the leaves might be lobed. Ugh. "The name derives from the ancient Greek συκόμορος (sūkomoros) meaning "fig-mulberry"." At least figs and mulberries are in the same plant family, although not that close.