The flavoring for licorice—the black kind, that is—comes from the root of a perennial Mediterranean plant (Glycyrrhiza glabra) that is related to the pea family and has blue flowers and compound pinnate leaves. (Some commercial brands of licorice are flavored instead with anise, a less costly Eurasian herb, but we're not talking about the cheap stuff here.) With that in mind, it shouldn't surprise you to learn that the noun licorice has its roots (no pun intended) in the Greek noun glukurrhiza (sometimes transliterated as glykyrrhiza), a compound formed from the Greek words glukus, meaning “sweet,” and rhiza, meaning “root.” The Greek passed into Latin as glychyrrhiza, but during the Late Latin era, the form changed to liquiritia, an alteration likely influenced by the Latin verb liquere, meaning “to become liquid” or “to dissolve,” as a reference to the way the plant root is processed in order to obtain its flavorsome extract. Old French borrowed the Late Latin noun but changed the spelling to licorece, and this later became the Anglo-French lycoryc before English speakers got their mitts on it in the early thirteenth century and transformed it into the now familiar licorice.
©2015 Michael R. Gates