Since 1854 we’ve been able to apply the word vegetable to humans we feel are dull & inactive. However, as both etymologists & vegetarians/vegans might argue, this shade of meaning flies in the face of the original vegetable & its countless cousins.
Vegetable came from the Proto-Indo-European root *weg-, which meant to be strong & lively. This same root gave us heaps of other strong & lively words.
Vigor showed up in 1300 through Old French from *weg-.
Vigil appeared in the 1200s through Anglo-French & Latin, from a word meaning watchfulness.
*Weg- gave us the words watch, awake, & wake through Old English about 1200, meaning a state of vigilant wakefulness.
In the 1500s, waft showed up through Middle Dutch and German, meaning to move through the air (like the breath that keeps us strong & lively).
This watchfulness shade of meaning made its way through French to English in 1802, to give us the word surveillance.
Vigilante came to us in 1856 through Spanish.
In the early 1400s, *weg- made its way through Latin to become velocity, meaning swiftness or speed.
By 1702 we began referring to a band of soldiers who remained watchful, dressed & armed through the night as a bivouac. This word came to English through Swiss-Alsation.
In the 1200s the word wait was born — originally to watch with hostile intent.
Though etymologists haven’t quite nailed it down, the words witch & wiccan may very well have come through Germanic languages from *weg-.
Nothing like a watchful, vigilant, wafting & witchy veggie, eh?
Big thanks to this week’s sources: the OED, Wordnik, Etymonline, Merriam Webster, & Collins Dictionary.
I write for teens, narrate audio books, bake bread, play music, and ponder the wonder of words in a foggy little town on California's central coast.
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