Tag Archives: turnip



As I’ll be carving for Halloween later, I’ve decided to explore the origin of the word pumpkin today.

Our 2017 pumpkins

Pumpkin has its origins in Greece and Mexico, much to my surprise. The oldest botanical evidence for pumpkins were seeds found in Mexico and dating to about 6000 B.C. Their name, however, comes from Greece rather than Mexico.

The Greek word pepon (πέπων) means large melon and probably originates from peptein meaning to cook or ripen. This passed through Latin as peponem and thence to Middle French as pompon. From French the word entered English as pumpion in the 1540s. By the 1640s, with help from some American colonists, it had found its resting place as pumpkin. Less than a decade later there are references to pumpkin pie and its fate was sealed.

I’m just glad that these days we grow pumpkins in Ireland. Having exported the festival of Halloween to North America we’re very happy to import the idea of pumpkin lanterns as a thank you. Why? Because in living memory (i.e. about half my knitting & crochet group) it was turnips (or swedes) which were carved for Halloween lanterns and trust me, carving a tough turnip is a much more perilous pursuit than pumpkin-carving. The result is pretty gruesome though.

“Traditional Irish Halloween Jack-o’-Lantern” by Rannpháirtí Anaithnid. Licensed under Creative Commons

Until next time happy reading, writing, and pumpkin carving,


Looking for more Wordfoolery? Check out my new book “How To Get Your Name In The Dictionary” – an exploration of the varied life-stories of those who gave their names as eponyms to the English language. All the buy links are in the side bar on the right —->>


balric, Baldrick, and turnips


Turnips are on my mind this week. Quite apart from the fact that they are rather tasty at this time of year, they seem to be following me.

First my son started eating them raw (as sticks, like carrot sticks only nuttier in flavour). He’s doing a fruit and vegetable promotional course in school called Food Dudes. It’s rather good, if you’re a parent I suggest you check it out. I then had to explain to my confused husband what the difference is between a swede and turnip. Not much really. Essentially turnips were called swedes in Ireland in olden times. I have no idea if it was because the Swedish people ate a lot of them. Perhaps Vikings hurled them at the native Irish when they were invading us? I’ve been ordering seeds for our backgarden vegetable plot from The Organic Centre. They list swedes seperately to turnip, but the descriptions look awfully similar to me. In much the same way, swede are called neeps in Scotland.

Then I was looking through my notes of potential words for this blog and napiform (na-pee-form) jumped out at me. Apparently it means turnip-shaped. Why do we need such a term in this world? I grant you than turnips are an important foodstuff, but it isn’t such an unusual shape, is it? However, judging by the number of listings for napiform in medical online dictionaries I think it is one of those terms used in latin for gardeners which has been stolen by the medics. Sure enough, it may be used to describe a tumour of that shape. Which begs the question, what doctor was so hungry when diagnosing a patient that it occured to him or her that the tumour looked like food?

The final turnip link came from my other blog, Reading 501 Books, about my attempts to read a huge list of “books you should read before you die”. I’m currently reading “The Canterbury Tales” by Chaucer from this list. I had no idea that they were in verse. I am pleasantly surprised to find the stories entertaining and well-written. They are readable enough despite the Olde English. I suspect a fair grounding in French is coming to my aid, as Chaucer liberally seizes terms from the French in his text.

But what of the turnip connection? Reading through the notes to one page to find the meaning of “balric”, it struck me how like it was to a certain character played by Tony Robinson in the excellent series “Blackadder”. His name was Baldrick. In my edition of Chaucer it is explained that a balric was the belt on which you hung your hunting/drinking horn. The Baldrick I recalled was not quite so useful. He was more concerned with his cunning plans to stockpile turnips.

I suspect my son would agree with Baldrick on the stockpiling, whether I called them swedes, neeps, or turnips.

Happy reading and writing,