November 24, 2015

Case File #015.11.24: CRANBERRY

Etymologists, lexicographers, and linguists are not one hundred percent sure about the origins of the word cranberry, though most believe its lineage can be traced to the Low German noun kraanbere, which literally means “crane berry” and is itself a compound formed from the Low German kraan, meaning “crane” (the bird, that is), and the Middle Low German bere. So now you're probably wondering how the berry got associated with a bird like the crane, right? Well, the experts aren't sure about that, either, but the most common theory is that it's because the flower of the plant—especially that of the European variety, Vaccinium oxycoccos—resembles the neck, head, and beak of a crane. Whether that theory is true or not, however, one thing is certain: the English noun cranberry first appeared circa 1650, when settlers in America began using it in reference to the North American variety of the plant, Vaccinium macrocarpum, and its berries. And because the European and North American varieties of the plant are so closely related and similar, not to mention the fact that there were both German and Dutch among the American settlers, it's not difficult to accept the predominant idea that cranberry is essentially an Anglicized version of the Low German kraanbere.

©2015 Michael R. Gates

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