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Kategorien/Categories:    ›Sprachkultur/Language culture‹  ›EN‹   –  12.06.2013

How the horseradish got its name


Why is horseradish, this pale root that gives a potent kick to many beloved foods, named after a four-legged creature in English, while in German it’s named after a body of water? There is a connection here – for those who want to see it.

As a resident of two distinct linguistic worlds who regularly transitions between them, I often think about the differences found in the names of things in various languages. I enjoy exploring the origin of words or specific expressions. Sometimes, though, one doesn’t see the most obvious of connections.

Take horseradish, for example. I was out in the garden the other day, pointing the plant out to a fellow gardener. And couldn’t think of the English word for it at that moment. “In German we call it Meerrettich,” I told her, hoping it might help jumpstart my memory.  “It means sea radish”. The moment I said ‘Meerrettich’ the sound similarity struck me like lightening: Meer = mare = horse. Voila. It’s that easy. The English language speakers simply stole the German word and turned it into something that made lingual sense (albeit not much else).

Now I bet my dad would have another explanation. He used to eat lots (and I mean a lot!) of fresh ground nutmeg in his chicken soup. My grandma always told him to watch out, as “too much nutmeg could kill a horse!” Maybe the same thing could be said of horseradish as well?

image courtesy of USDA-NRCS/Britton and Brown, 1913


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