Every Wednesday, I explore the linguistic origins of one word in different languages.
What’s the opposite of a green thumb? Typhoid Mary finger? Pathogen pinkie? Infectious digit? Whatever it is, I’ve got it. If I just look at a plant too long it’ll die even though I like plants (as long as they aren’t flowers) and I’m pro-oxygen generation.
I am totally honest with people when I take on their sublets: if they leave living things in my care, they will not survive despite my best intentions. If they want to see their precious greenery in a few months, they need to make arrangements that don’t involve me.
This is why the owner of my current domicile recently came over to tend to her garden. She had to prune some things and throw more dirt on some other things and generally aerate the dirt around a third grouping of things. All of her poking and prodding reminded me of a Word Mystery which I had not yet dug into, so let’s get our hands dirty.
EN prune — trim (a tree, shrub, or bush) by cutting away dead or overgrown branches or stems, esp. to increase fruitfulness and growth. ORIGIN Old French proignier [abbreviate?] possibly based on Latin rotundus [round].
ES podar — Cortar o quitar las ramas superfluas de los árboles, vides y otras plantas para que fructifiquen con más vigor. [Cut or remove superfluous branches from trees, vines and other plants so that they bear fruit with more vigor.] ORIGIN Latin putāre [clear up, settle, reckon, estimate, value, think, believe, suppose, hold, mean].
FR élaguer — réalizer l’opération qui consiste à couper certaines branches d’un arbre. [Perform the task of cutting certain branches from a tree.] ORIGIN Norwegian laga [put in order].
Well, I’m stumped. I have no idea what to make of any of these words today.
English note: Old French references aren’t easy to come by online, so I can’t verify what proignier means, nor can I see any connection between “cutting” and “round.”
Spanish note: Putāre had a whole slew of definitions, many of them different from each other, none of which seem connected to promoting growth, horticulture, or culling. It’s also not related to puta (I checked).
French note: At least the origin word is still identifiable in the modern French word, but I think it’s kind of a stretch to say that “pruning” is “putting in order.” Maybe the win goes to France by default since the other two are so out there?
Writing out “horticulture” made me think of Dorothy Parker. When asked to use the word in a sentence, she said, “You can lead a horticulture, but you can’t make her think.” Snerk. She was the best.