November 11, 2013

Case File #013.11.11: CORN

Corn is an old word that has been in the English lexicon since at least the eighth century. In the Old English era, however, it didn't denote a particular grain but merely seed grain in general, and in modern times, the specific grain to which the word does refer depends on where you happen to be. In England, for example, corn usually refers to wheat, whereas it refers to oats in Ireland and Scotland and to rye in many of the European countries where English is the lingua franca of business and academics. It was in the mid-seventeenth century that European colonists in North America first used corn in reference to maize, the large yellowish cereal grain indigenous to the New World, and this not only became the word's primary sense in what would later develop into the United States, but it also ultimately caught on in New Zealand, Australia, and most of Canada. Now, some of you out there might this very moment be rubbing your sore feet and wondering about the sense of corn in which it refers to a hard, thick spot on surface of the skin. Well, that word has nothing to do with botany or agriculture and has a different etymology altogether. First appearing in the English lexicon around 1425, that corn was derived from the Old French corne, which meant “horn-like growth” and had itself evolved from the Latin cornu, meaning “a horn, tusk, hoof, or claw.”

©2013 Michael R. Gates

No comments:

Post a Comment