CHESTNUT.

My wife asked me, out of the blue, why we refer to old jokes and stories as “chestnuts.” The short answer is, nobody knows. The OED says: “Origin unknown: said to have arisen in U.S. The newspapers of 1886-7 contain numerous circumstantial explanations palpably invented for the purpose. A plausible account is given in the place cited in quot. 1888″; that account is the one you can find in many places, for instance here:

In a play called ‘The Broken Sword’, by William Dimond, produced at Covent Garden in 1816, a character called Captain Xavier is always repeating unlikely stories about his exploits. On one occasion, talking to a character called Pablo, he mentions a cork-tree. Pablo corrects Xavier, saying that the tree was a chestnut, and ‘I ought to know, for haven’t I heard you tell this story twenty-seven times?’
The play was soon forgotten, but many years later in America, an actor named William Warren Jr recalled this episode at an actors’ dinner, where another speaker had told a stale old joke. The actors who were present picked the phrase up, and ‘an old chestnut’ became a synonym for ‘an old joke’.

That’s probably as good as we’re going to do. Eric Partridge in Origins: An Etymological Dictionary of Modern English‎ says it “prob comes from roasted chestnuts eaten at the gossipy fireside,” which is the kind of vague guess I expect of that genial old soul. The Dictionary of American Regional English doesn’t venture an explanation but does show it as being chiefly in the Northeast and North Midlands. For me it’s part of core vocabulary; I wonder if younger people use it?

Comments

  1. I use it, but with a whiff of fogeyish irony, and probably only in the phrase, “That old chestnut…”

  2. According to Farmer and Henley, the 1888 quote is from a piece in the Philadelphia Press and William Warren Jr “had often played Pablo” on the stage.

  3. What Conrad said, though I prefer “tired old chestnut”.

  4. Completely off topic, but I’ve eaten roasted chestnuts just once and strongly regret the decimation of the American chestnut.
    And the decimation of American elms too, even though they’re inedible.

  5. Completely off topic, but I’ve eaten roasted chestnuts just once and strongly regret the decimation of the American chestnut.
    And the decimation of American elms too, even though they’re inedible.

  6. In Horse-Feathers & Other Curious Words Funk says that the version of “The Broken Sword” story that he passes along attributes the first use to William Warren. “But as this William Warren died in 1832, whereas chestnut only came into popular use about fifty years later, it is more likely to have been his son, William Warren Jr., also a player of comedies, who died in 1888, who repeated Pablo’s line.” It seems to have been Warren Sr. who played Pablo on stage and Warren Jr. who recycled the chestnut line at a dinner party.

  7. marie-lucie says:

    JE: I’ve eaten roasted chestnuts just once and strongly regret the decimation of the American chestnut.
    Were those roasted chestnuts American or European? And do/did the two kinds of chestnuts taste the same?

  8. I’m familiar with the expression, but I don’t think I use it myself. But then again, I’m a young Westerner, not an older Northeasterner.

  9. SnowLeopard says:

    I found what I suspect to be a lone American chestnut (Castanea dentata) in the woods last summer; harvested three seeds because I’m quite good with unusual plants but so far haven’t been able to get any of them to germinate. I only use the word myself in a botanical or culinary sense (rarely an equine sense), not in a humor-thine-elders sense. The latter use of “chestnut” was so baffling to me that half the time I guessed people were referring to some proverbial favorite horse.

  10. They must have been imported European chestnuts. I could still get some as a specialty food if I made the effort, but the habit of routinely eating chestnuts in a sort of casual way is no longer part of American life.
    There are a few hundred surviving American chestnut trees, out of literally billions. For all I know thay all have proper names. Presumably the chestnut will never come back, even if an immune strain is found, because their niche has been filled by other trees.

  11. They must have been imported European chestnuts. I could still get some as a specialty food if I made the effort, but the habit of routinely eating chestnuts in a sort of casual way is no longer part of American life.
    There are a few hundred surviving American chestnut trees, out of literally billions. For all I know thay all have proper names. Presumably the chestnut will never come back, even if an immune strain is found, because their niche has been filled by other trees.

  12. The “equine sense”? Had to think about that for a second or two, but then thought this: isn’t it odd that ‘chestnut horse’ and ‘horse chestnut’ are common phrases (120,000 and 792,000 hits respectively on Google) with entirely different meanings?

  13. strongly regret the decimation of the American chestnut
    TACF has been working on backcross breeding with the Chinese chestnut to produce a blight-resistant American chestnut. They are getting close; they have been at it since the early 80′s, which is coincidentally when we moved into this house, whose woodwork is made of local chestnut from Chestnut Hill.

  14. Apparently the roots of some America chestnuts are not affected by the blight. I have several dead trunks whose roots send up shoots which get to as much as six inches in diameter before they die back. In a good year, if I get out right after the first frost and before the squirrels get them all, I can harvest as much as one or two cupfuls. The full nuts are about the size of the part of your thumbtip covered by your thumbnail. They are often quite sweet although a little raw tasting. I have never roasted them so I can’t make any comparison with the European variety. I surely would like someone to come up with a treatment to block the blight before these last hangers-on are all gone.

  15. rootlesscosmo says:

    Could “old chestnut” be connected with the blight? After a certain time there weren’t any (or vanishingly few) young chestnuts. (But what were those things the guy on East 53rd Street, near MOMA, used to roast and sell on cold winter afternoons in the 1950′s?)

  16. More in the way of chesnuts -
    http://www.centerforagroforestry.org/

  17. A different version of the “Broken Sword” anecdote is given in this 1885 article, as one of three competing theories:

    The origin of the term “chestnut,” applied to a stale joke, is just now being variously ascribed. One authority asserts that it originated in Philadephia when a minstrel company were perpetrating stale jokes on the Quakers at the Chestnut Street Theater. Hanley, Harrigan & Hart’s old theatrical manager laughs at the idea above mentioned, and says that the term originated eighteen years ago. He alleges: “In 1867 I was traveling through New York, putting an old play called The Broken Sword on the stage with Marietta Ravel as leading lady. In the second act an old man stands in the center of the stage telling the story of the murder of the dumb boy, John Sandford, my comedian, sits on a low stool at the left, interrupting the old man. The old man makes frequent reference to a hickory tree. Every time he says hickory the comedian gets off his stool and says, ‘No, chestnut; I tell you, chestnut,’ till the cold man is exhausted. After the performance in Rochester, P. Connelly, dead now, was in one of the dressing-rooms with the others of the company, and he started to get off a many story. Everybody interrupted with shouts of ‘Chestnut!’ It clung to the company all the season, and, of course, was soon caught by the profession. That’s the only true origin of it.” Notwithstanding Hanley’s positiveness, and the claims put in by the Quakers of Philadelphia, Mr. H. L. Palmer, of Brooklyn, comes to the front with the following, contributed to the New York Sun:

    “Some years ago a party of actors started for Philadelphia from Jersey City. It was the fall of the year, and each member of the party bought a pocketful of chestnuts to munch on the way. Seated in a group in the smoker, it was natural that stories should be related to kill time. Finally one of the party told one of the palaeozoic age, and as if by common impulse each one of the listeners pelted the relator with a handful of chestnuts. The idea too immensely, and thereafter each man was compelled to tell a story. If it was a new one he escaped, but if an old one he was pelted unmercifully. It was a sad fact that so many old ones were told that the air was constantly streaked with flying chestnuts. Finally the best and jolliest story-teller of the lot was called upon. In order to escape a pelting, he made up his story as he went along. The train by this time was entering Philadelphia, and soon came to a standstill, and the brakeman, thrusting his head through the door, yelled out “Chestnut” (meaning the street). The story-teller here roared out, “You’re a d–d liar; I made that up myself.”

    Such an episode was sure to be related, and in this way, I am told, the term “chestnut,” as applied to an old joke, originated.

    –Johannes Factotum, “Origin of Popular Phrases,” St. Louis Globe-Democrat, Apr. 19, 1885, p. 8

    A much simpler explanation is suggested in Puck, Dec. 7, 1881, quoting Baltimore Every Saturday:

    The place where the “worm never dieth” is in the chestnut; and it is the chestnut also that keeps an old joke alive.

  18. With Karneval coming up, the roasted chestnut season is not far away. I haven’t seen a street vendor yet, but in 2 weeks they’ll be everywhere in downtown Cologne.
    The chestnut blight in America was new to me. I’ve had Karneval chestnuts every year since the late 60′s. My internet research reveals that the blight (Cryphonectria
    parasitica
    ) was first discovered in Europe in 1938, and caused severe damage to the “wild chestnut” (?I’m not a botanist) castanea dentata. As for the sweet chestnut, in German Edelkastanie castanea sativa, whose nuts are edible, the stocks infested with the chestnut blight fell, but recovered at the end of the 20th century. In Austria the chestnut trees have been successfully innoculated with a hypovirulent strain – in contrast to the backcross breeding in America described at MMcM’s TACF link.
    Less controversional than the origin of “old chestnut” is the origin of to pull someone else’s chestnuts out of the fire, namely La Fontaine’s fable Le Singe et le Chat. Monkey Bertrand and cat Raton lived in the same house, and had the same master. One day they were watching chestnuts roasting in the fireplace. The monkey says God didn’t equip him to pull chestnuts out of fires, so he asks the cat to do this. The cat jabs its paw to push the embers aside little by little, and so extracts the chestnuts. While the cat is doing this, the monkey eats the nuts. A servant comes and chases the two away. The monkey had eaten all the nuts, the cat got none.

    Une servant vient : adieu mes gens. Raton
    N’était pas content, ce dit-on.
    Aussi ne le sont pas la plupart de ces princes
    Qui, flattés d’un pareil emploi,
    Vont s’échauder en des provinces
    Pour le profit de quelque roi

    Interestingly, Europe and America have both pulled their chestnuts out of the blight, each in its own way.

  19. A.J.P. Crown says:

    Horse Chestnut(Aesculus): The North American species are known as buckeyes and the Eurasian species as Horse Chestnuts. Some are also called white chestnut or red chestnut (as in some of the Bach flower remedies. In Britain, they are sometimes called conker trees
    Sweet Chestnut (Castanea sativa, family Fagaceae), also known as the Spanish Chestnut, Portuguese Chestnut or European chestnut, is a species of chestnut originally native to southeastern Europe and Asia Minor. (Why ‘Spanish’, etc., if it comes from S.E. Europe?)
    Marie-Lucie, you ought to have mentioned marrons glacés, which is one of my mother’s favourite Christmas foods.

  20. I just came across a recipe for a “reconvalescent” red cabbage soup with caramelized chestnuts. In Germany, red cabbage is traditionally baked with apples, cloves etc. and put on the plate along with steamed chestnuts, Sauerbraten, baked goose and all that wonderful stuff.

  21. Horse chestnuts are toxic and inedible without extensive processing.
    It would probably be possible to raise resistant European chestnuts in the US, but the enormous wild stands are gone and it wouldn’t be profitable to plant enough trees to produce commercial quantities. (I’ve been told that no one raises hardwoods commercially because they’re too slow-growing.) Apparently the blight never reached the west coast because there were almost no chestnuts there, so there a few healthy trees in Oregon and elsewhere.

  22. Horse chestnuts are toxic and inedible without extensive processing.
    It would probably be possible to raise resistant European chestnuts in the US, but the enormous wild stands are gone and it wouldn’t be profitable to plant enough trees to produce commercial quantities. (I’ve been told that no one raises hardwoods commercially because they’re too slow-growing.) Apparently the blight never reached the west coast because there were almost no chestnuts there, so there a few healthy trees in Oregon and elsewhere.

  23. marie-lucie says:

    But what were those things the guy on East 53rd Street, near MOMA, used to roast and sell on cold winter afternoons in the 1950′s?
    They must have been European chestnuts, imported from Northern Italy, through the port of Genoa. Many Genovese came to New York as chestnut vendors, roasting chestnuts outdoors in the winter. In France this function was (and, I think, still is) filled by Auvergnats (people from the South-central province of Auvergne). Chestnut trees seem to be found growing in the rather poor, rocky soils of those regions. Eating roasted chestnuts on the sidewalk on a cold wintry day warms your insides as welll as your hands.
    I did not know that there were/had been native chestnuts in North America. From the descriptions above it seems that American chestnuts are smaller, and can be eaten raw, but I have never heard of European chestnuts eaten without cooking (either boiling or roasting). In France, chestnuts are a traditional accompaniment for turkey (eaten at Christmas). Given that chestnuts are rather mealy, this is probably a carryover from serving them with goose, a more fatty meat, much prized before the larger and leaner turkeys were raised in Europe.
    Chestnuts are known by two words in French, le marron and la châtaigne, which probably come from different dialects. When referring to the things in themselves, the word marron is less used now, in order to differenciate the edible native chestnut from the imported, inedible marron d’Inde (horse chestnut), and the trees are known respectively as châtaignier and marronnier, the latter very common as a city tree planted along streets. However, as an article of food the word marron is the only one used: you can buy them raw, for instance in order to cook them with turkey (la dinde aux marrons), or indulge in commercial preparations such as la purée de marrons (unsweetened), la crème de marrons (sweetened and with vanilla added) or, as AJP said, les marrons glacés, whole hulled candied chestnuts, which you might give at Christmas instead of chocolates. These can be very expensive: last year my sister paid 14 euros for a box of 4 of these! (she was determined to buy them from the most famous maker in Paris).

  24. mollymooly says:

    I’ve never heard “chestnut” used on its own to mean “tired old joke”. It’s always “old chestnut” or “tired chestnut” or “tired old chestnut”. And yet one cannot call a “fresh new joke” a “fresh young chestnut”. Is there a Greek name for this kind of … hemipleonasm?

  25. A.J.P. Crown says:

    Horse chestnuts are toxic and inedible without extensive processing.
    John, are you sure about this? i used to think so too, but I was recently told (by my daughter) that although they aren’t exactly food they aren’t deadly poison either. I urge you to try one and see. (Only don’t.)
    I recently read something really quite interesting about sweet (Spanish?) chestnuts, the Duke of Wellington and the Peninsular War. That’s all I can remember, unfortunately. If anyone knows what it is, I’d love to be reminded.

  26. I did not know that there were/had been native chestnuts in North America.
    The village smithy under Longfellow’s spreading chestnut tree.
    Horse chestnuts.
    I wonder if those aren’t what they call “buckeyes”. They grow around here–there’s a tree in someone’s front yard a couple blocks away–but I’ve never heard of them being edible. There are plenty of acorns, but we don’t eat those either. People do eat the local walnuts.

  27. I don’t think that they’re fatal, but they’ll make you sick. There’s a way of grinding them and leaching them in boiling water that makes them edible.
    It was either “Rum, sodomy, and roast chestnuts” or “The battle of Salamanca was won in the chestnut groves of Sussex.”

  28. I don’t think that they’re fatal, but they’ll make you sick. There’s a way of grinding them and leaching them in boiling water that makes them edible.
    It was either “Rum, sodomy, and roast chestnuts” or “The battle of Salamanca was won in the chestnut groves of Sussex.”

  29. scarabaeus says:

    ???”Horse chestnuts are toxic and inedible without extensive processing.”
    Ah ! yes, but they be good for playing conquers.
    That auld chestnut, could it be about the guy who claims his chestnut [horse of course] has smashed a thousand other chesty nuts.

  30. marie-lucie says:

    Nijma, how to tell what kind of chesnut tree you have:
    Horse chestnut trees have leaves roughly like a hand: several long leaves (wider towards the end) radiating from a thin stem. In the spring they have beautiful showy white (with a little red dot) or sometimes pink racemes of flowers standing up on the branches. As with edible chestnuts the nuts are enclosed in a thick thorny green envelope, but when that opens there is a single large seed which is not spherical but a little irregular and slightly flattened. The seed is a shiny brown, except for a round, greyish dot which is not shiny (so that must be the reason for the name “buckeye”).
    The edible chestnut on the other hand has long, fairly stiff, single leaves with a slightly serrated edge, and when the seed envelope opens there are 2 or 3 brown nuts, each with a pointy top ending in a few hairs. The covering for each nut is smooth, shiny and tough and has to be removed (most commonly after boiling or roasting, which also cooks the nuts) before the nuts can be eaten.
    AJP’s daughter:
    Horse chestnuts may not be lethal if you eat them, but you may still have reason to regret trying them – like acorns they would probably need prolonged leaching before they would be safe, even if they were palatable.

  31. marie-lucie says:

    p.s. as JE wrote above.

  32. I’ve only heard “chestnut” used to refer to an old story or joke on language blogs. (I’m 33 and have lived the first half of my life in New York and the second half in Oregon.) It’s bound to creep into my usage any minute, though. We do have some chestnut trees here, and have enjoyed roasting the small nuts. They taste quite similar to the big shiny chestnuts I’ve had (European or Chinese, I don’t know) but less mealy.

  33. scarabaeus says:

    another old chestnut:
    This is one of the oldest chestnuts around, a truly classic myth.
    A well-meaning head teacher decided children should wear safety goggles to play conkers. Subsequently some schools appear to have banned conkers on ‘health & safety’ grounds or made children wear goggles, or even padded gloves!
    http://www.hse.gov.uk/myth/september.htm

  34. Conkers strikes me as an admirably resourceful exploitation of an abundant but somewhat problematic resource.

  35. Conkers strikes me as an admirably resourceful exploitation of an abundant but somewhat problematic resource.

  36. Sorry if this is a chestnut…
    So there is the translation of the Russian term баян (orthographic variant боян), widely used on the Internet nowadays to denote a joke, an interesting story etc., which has been very often told, referred to, or linked in the past.
    A standard blog entry using this term would begin with:
    Извините, если баян:
    Just thought you might be interested to know.

  37. David Marjanović says:

    Some are also called white chestnut or red chestnut

    One of these is American in origin, the other European; both are common park trees over here, except that the European one is highly sensitive to a leaf-mining moth.
    Edible-chestnut trees (Castanea) don’t occur north of the Alps… and roasted edible chestnuts are, confusingly, called Maroni in German (from Italian).
    Buckeye? Isn’t that what the fruits of beeches are called (German: Bucheckern)? These, and acorns, are edible when ground and rinsed with lots of water to get the hydrocyanic acid out. That was the precursor to agriculture in the Middle East.

  38. rootlesscosmo says:

    Mario Batali made chestnut-flour pasta on his cooking show, while acknowledging that this had been a wartime substitute for wheat flour in parts of rural Italy and still carried, for older Italians anyway, disagreeable associations with hunger and Fascism and fear.

  39. marie-lucie says:

    David: the fruits of beeches … are edible when ground and rinsed with lots of water to get the hydrocyanic acid out.
    Are we talking about the same thing? I remember eating beechnuts in France as a child. We found them on the ground under beeches and ate them right away. They are very small and not great-tasting but don’t need to be ground and rinsed. Perhaps that kind of treatment would improve the taste, but they are definitely edible without it.

  40. “Buckeye” in the US is the horse-chestnut.

  41. “Buckeye” in the US is the horse-chestnut.

  42. The American chestnut is apparently Castanea dentata. I had thought these had all died out long before I was born, with some old stumps continuing to send up suckers that did not get big enough to produce nuts. It was very surprising to me to hear there were suckers capable of producing fruit and of the survival of the Oregon trees. Reminds me of the story of the ents going to look for the entwives. Looks like there are at least 6 varieties of American buckeye Aesculus.
    http://www.americanforests.org/resources/bigtrees/register.php?sort=&startnum=80

  43. To marie-lucie’s description above of the differences between the species, I would add that the pods containing the nuts look quite different. The horse chestnut has a thick green casing with a smooth outer surface studded with short, conical spikes, [image], while the sweet chestnut presents an impenetrable mass of fine spines like a hedgehog [image].

  44. marie-lucie says:

    Tim, thank you for the beautiful photographs. It has been so long since I saw edible chestnut pods (on the forest floor) that I had forgotten they did not look the same as horse chestnut ones (which are seen in abundance on French streets in the fall).

  45. A.J.P. Crown says:

    David: Edible-chestnut trees (Castanea) don’t occur north of the Alps
    I don’t understand this, because they occur in England.
    horse chestnut ones (which are seen in abundance on French streets
    English, too. There is an avenue of horse chestnuts here in Norway, next to the local primary school. The resourceful children have taken up conkers. The wonderful thing about horse chestnuts is the sheen and colour when you first split them open. They remind me of highly-polished antique mahogany furniture.
    Emerson, thanks for trying. I’ll have to do some research, that wasn’t it.

  46. “David: Edible-chestnut trees (Castanea) don’t occur north of the Alps
    I don’t understand this, because they occur in England.”
    And in Belgium. And I have eaten them raw many times and enjoyed them.

  47. A.J.P. Crown says:

    In England we only eat the nuts not the whole tree; but I know Belgians are more creative with food than we are, mayonnaise-filled chocolates and that sort of thing.

  48. a.J.P. Crown says:

    Here. According to Woodland Grange, I don’t know where they got it:

    Sweet or Spanish Chestnut – Castania Sativa Fagaceae Romans introduced the Chestnut to Britain in the First Century AD.Both the nuts and flour ground from them formed part of the Romandiet The name Castania comes from a town called Castanis onThessaly, an area where Chestnut trees were grown in abundance.In Christianity the sweet Chestnut tree is a symbol of goodness,chastity and triumph over temptation because of the prickly casethat encloses the nut. The Chestnut does not form large pieces of timber, but mainlycomprises of tough heartwoods, which was used in the past forbarrel staves, wine cases, coffins and even underground waterpipes, this was due to its ability to resist shrinkage or expansion. During World War II more than 1,500 miles of track way fencingmade from Chestnut was used to enable military vehicles to travelover the soft sandy beaches of Normandy.

  49. A.J.P. Crown says:

    Another chestnut thing to do with horses. The patches of dark hard skin on the inside, half way up the front legs of a horse are known as the chestnuts.

  50. I looked up “chestnut” in Waverley Root’s wonderfully illustrated Food, “an authoritative visual history and dictionary of the foods of the world,” and found some interesting stuff. He discusses the disappearance of the American chestnut:
    “Then, in 1904, chestnut saplings imported from the Far East were planted on Long Island. With them came Endothia parasitica, a fungus which eats into the bark of chestnut trees, girdling and killing them. Endemic in Asia, the chestnut blight is not particularly destructive there; it proved fatal to species which had never previously been exposed to it. It was remarked in 1908 that the disease had spread to other parts of New York State, but now one dreamed how deadly it would prove to be. When the danger was finally realized, it was too late. By 1940 there were no longer any American chestnuts.”
    I take it from some comments above that the last statement was somewhat exaggerated but largely true. On the French words he says:
    “Latin languages distinguish between two forms of the European chestnut, one called châtaigne in French, the other marron. The châtaigne has two or three nuts in its bur, the marron only one. Châtaignes are often left to grow wild, when they are described as châtaignes des bois, ‘woods chestnuts’; the nuts are small, comparatively tasteless, and do not keep well.”
    On their history:
    “Legendarily, the chestnut passed into western Europe via Castan, a town of eastern Thessaly, hece its generic name Castanea. The ancient Romans were fond of chestnuts; their poor counteracted the rank taste of some of the wild greens they ate by boiling chestnuts with them, and the Roman legions are credited with having spread the chestnut (and the walnut) through Europe…
    “In its long history as a human food, the chestnut has been an aliment of extremes: it has produced luxurious dishes for the rich, but more often has provided the basic nutriment of the poor… In the three countries which today make the largest use of chestnuts—Japan, Italy and France—it has often been the principal food of the poor… In English we talk of a diet of bread and water where the French would speak of fasting on water and chestnuts (jeuner à l’eau et à la châtaigne—not marron, which would carry too rich a connotation)… Corsicans still say of people who eat cheaply, ‘They eat out of the drawer,’ a reminder of the days when wild chestnuts gathered in the woods were spread out to dry in bureau drawers, to which one had recourse on the not infrequent occasions when there was nothing else to eat.”
    A great book; somebody should reprint it.

  51. “Walnut” is apparently a Germanic word meaning “foreign (Gaulish) nut”, “Gaulish” meaning “Roman” (or Gallo-Roman), even though it originally meant “not Roman”. Apparently the word “gauge” for walnut, derived from some verson of Gaulish, survives in some dialects. But the links are a bit confusing.
    Link
    Link 2

  52. “Walnut” is apparently a Germanic word meaning “foreign (Gaulish) nut”, “Gaulish” meaning “Roman” (or Gallo-Roman), even though it originally meant “not Roman”. Apparently the word “gauge” for walnut, derived from some verson of Gaulish, survives in some dialects. But the links are a bit confusing.
    Link
    Link 2

  53. The genus is Aesculus, famly Sapindaceae, and there are several species in the US. The common tersm buckeye and horse chestneut are applied arbitrarily to various species.
    Aesculus arguta: Texas buckeye
    Aesculus californica: California buckeye
    Aesculus chinensis: Chinese Horse Chestnut
    Aesculus flava (A. octandra): yellow buckeye
    Aesculus glabra: Ohio Buckeye
    Aesculus hippocastanum: Common Horse Chestnut
    Aesculus indica: Indian Horse Chestnut
    Aesculus neglecta: dwarf buckeye
    Aesculus parviflora: bottlebrush buckeye
    Aesculus pavia: red buckeye
    Aesculus sylvatica: painted Buckeye
    Aesculus turbinata: Japanese Horse Chestnut
    Aesculus chinensis var. wilsonii: Wilson’s Horse Chestnut
    Aesculus wangii = Aesculus assamica.
    A. arguta, californica, glabra, pavia, flava, parvifolia, etc are American. A. pavia is red-flowered.
    California buckeyes, aesculus californica, are toxic enough that people used to use them as fish poison. They also collected than as famine food in those rare years whem all the species of oak had a bad year all at the same time. They require two or three times the amount of water and time to leach. They were a last resort – people ate live oak acorns before they would eat buckeyes.

  54. A.J.P. Crown says:

    people used to use them as fish poison
    Fish poison?

  55. David Marjanović says:

    Are we talking about the same thing?

    Looks like I goofed, and only acorns contain hydrocyanic acid (like apple kernels, BTW). I remember something about beechnuts being edible, too…

    “David: Edible-chestnut trees (Castanea) don’t occur north of the Alps
    I don’t understand this, because they occur in England.”
    And in Belgium.

    Ah, so they probably occur along the Atlantic, where it never gets seriously cold.

    “Walnut” is apparently a Germanic word meaning “foreign (Gaulish) nut”

    Well, “Welsh nut”. Except that, on the continent, “Welsh” means Romance rather than Celtic.

    Aesculus hippocastanum: Common Horse Chestnut

    Thanks, that’s the (single) European species.

  56. “people used to use them as fish poison
    Fish poison?”
    You pound the nuts (?) into a mash and spread it in the water. It suffocates the fish and they are safe to eat.
    “Looks like I goofed, and only acorns contain hydrocyanic acid (like apple kernels, BTW). ”
    Acorns don’t smell like they have hydrocyanic acid, but they may have enough to harm a person even so. What they do have lots of is tannins, and that is why they have to be leached.
    “Well, “Welsh nut”. Except that, on the continent, “Welsh” means Romance rather than Celtic.”
    Romance? Does the word refer to Italians and so on? I saw the term “waelsisch” used in a Nazi era poster to refer to French things, which would be a reference both to Romance and to Celtic. By the way, I saw the term “wealh” etymologized as deriving from “Volcae”. Can anyone confirm or deny? Walnuts are or were associated with the Romans who introduced them to Britain at least and maybe elsewhere, so the that would mean that Germanic speakers were conflating the Celtic Volcae with the Romans. It could be simply that they identified both the Gauls and Romans with that warmer climate zone where walnuts grow, that starts at the Franco-German border, where spruce leaves off and chestnuts start – as you are heading westward obviously.

  57. Cyanide is in cherry pits, maybe prune pits or apple pips. It’s harmless in small quantities. I think Oaks have tannin.

  58. Cyanide is in cherry pits, maybe prune pits or apple pips. It’s harmless in small quantities. I think Oaks have tannin.

  59. A.J.P. Crown says:

    Famous last words (Minnesota Dept.).
    “It’s harmless in small quantities”…
    R.I.P.
    J.J.Emerson

  60. “In England we only eat the nuts not the whole tree; but I know Belgians are more creative with food than we are, mayonnaise-filled chocolates and that sort of thing.”
    Oh boy, I should have seen that one coming, actually, on high days and holidays, we eat foie gras chocolates: http://www.bruyerre.be/ (click on Chocolaterie > EN > For every taste > Lolla)

  61. A.J.P. Crown says:

    ‘When you bite into Lolla for zer first time…” Ha ha ha.
    Life 1, Art 0.

  62. lol

  63. lol

  64. Famous last words (Minnesota Dept.).
    “It’s harmless in small quantities”…
    R.I.P.
    J.J.Emerson”
    Heh heh, but he’s right. Nicotine is harmless in small quantities. Capsaicin, a neuritoxin, is wonderful if you are a human copping a buzz, not so much if you are a pepper-munching insect…
    Acorns have a ton of tannins, but closely related chestnuts don’t.

  65. Chestnut (Castanea),[1] (including some chinkapin or chinquapin) is a genus of eight or nine species of deciduous trees and shrubs in the Beech family Fagaceae, native to temperate regions of the Northern Hemisphere. The name refers to the edible nuts they produce, distributed by jesters (hence, jest·nuts) to groundlings attending medieval theatrical events. To prize the meat from the hard outer shell, such attendees commonly used so-called “wise-crackers.”

  66. marie-lucie says:

    Acorns have a ton of tannins, but closely related chestnuts don’t.
    Closely related??? I can see beeches and chestnuts being related (beech nuts are a little similar to tiny chestnuts), but oaks?

  67. Capsaicin, a neuritoxin, is wonderful if you are a human copping a buzz
    What is this buzz of which you speak?
    I believe this same Capsaicin is the main ingredient of an animal repellent. (I was trying to keep the neighbor’s dog from pooing beside my front door every day–it didn’t work.)

  68. marie-lucie says:

    Nijma, did you find something that did work? I am having a similar problem.

  69. What you do is buddy up to your neighbor and choose the right time to ask “Could you please retrain your dog to shit in your other neighbor’s yard instead of mine?”

  70. What you do is buddy up to your neighbor and choose the right time to ask “Could you please retrain your dog to shit in your other neighbor’s yard instead of mine?”

  71. did you find something that did work?
    Yes and no. The real problem is the pet owner that does not clean up after their animal. That particular dog owner moved out, but a new one moved in upstairs, with the same habits. I ended up tearing out that part of the lawn, which was brown and not really growing anyhow, and replacing it with a row of ordinary variegated hostas, which are pretty easy to propagate by dividing the roots. Impatients grow here pretty well, so I filled in with those and other annuals until the hostas got big enough to overshadow the sidewalk. Also during the winter I shovel a small area under a tree right where the animal is let loose so it does have a place it can go without getting ice between its toes instead of going where I walk. I have also stopped making friends with the animals and now I intentionally intimidate them. It’s hard to do because I like dogs more than I like most people, but I also don’t like stepping in poo on my way to work.

  72. A small fence also works–even a small ornamental one a foot high.

  73. A.J.P. Crown says:

    Dogs have a very strong sense of smell and they like to leave a calling card for others to know they’ve been there. They seem to dislike citrous fruit and most vegetables, so if you can leave these out to compost it might put the dogs off. I say might. I think m-l ought to speak to the owner. They can take care of this very easily, as John says. I suppose anyone who treats their neighbor this way may not care, but they may just not be very bright.

  74. marie-lucie says:

    Thank you all for the suggestions. Of course I have spoken to the owner! unfortunately a fence is out of the question because we share a driveway. It is all right now because the owners are not living in the house while it is being extensively renovated, but they will be moving back soon. They are cooperative to some extent but the dog often manages to escape into my half of the backyard, which has grass and plants in it while the neighbours’ is mostly a parking area. I also think that someone else is letting their dog use the little bit of front garden along the street as they walk the dog. I will try the citrus fruit, that makes sense, or perhaps that new non-toxic but concentrated cleaning product made from orange peel, perhaps that could be spread on the ground (after the snow disappears) without damaging it.

  75. A.J.P. Crown says:

    The other thing about dogs is that they are creatures of habit. If they habitually use your garden every morning between eight and eight-thirty, it may help if you habitually stand guard there — at least for a few days, anyway — and say ‘No!’ loudly and firmly if they appear to be coming in (they like to obey orders if they aren’t too impractical). Shouting ‘No’ might make the owners understand your feelings as well.

  76. The commercial spray probably did work for a short while. You can smell it when it’s on the ground, and it probably kept the animal away for two or three days. I didn’t think it lasted as long as the label said it would, even without rain. I think this particular dog also had very strong habit. While it would probably be very difficult to keep spraying all season, the spray might help establish habits when the animal returns.
    The owner really should be exercising the dog daily with baggie in hand, that’s when the dog poops, the bags from newspapers are the most waterproof. I have never actually had the guts to have that conversation with a dog owner.
    What really motivates most owners is possible harm to their animal. I remember a lawn that had a sign saying the lawn had been chemically treated and was dangerous for pets so please to keep pets away. The sign was up for years and years. I’m trying to think what lawn treatments are bad for pets. Maybe crabgrass pre-emergence treatment, and the lawn fertilizer with the week-killer? Some of them say on the label not to touch it without gloves. I can’t imagine it would be a good idea for little Foo-foo to get it on his paws and then lick his feet.
    Some municipalities also have fines for animal owners who don’t clean up, and enforce them and posts signs about the fines–I think New York did this a while back. we have an alderman system here and the alderman is usually tickled pink to go to a block party and be able to get a speed limit sign in the alley or some other little thing for the residents.
    AJP’s description of neighbors who don’t care/are not terribly bright is very apt–here they may get violent as well and are likely to be involved with drugs. Marie-Lucie’s neighbors should probably put in a dog run while they are remodeling, but I myself am somewhat hesitant in my suggestions to neighbors.

  77. A.J.P. Crown says:

    A community dog run is a wonderful thing. We have given over a field to dogs here, and they love it.

  78. Does a community dog run need a fence? I suppose so if there are leash laws. I have heard of dog parks in American cities, but Chicago is always the last to do something that doesn’t involve a cut for the politicians. Even our recycling system is backwards. You have to buy a “blue bag” and put your yard waste in that. Everything that can’t be composted I put in the neighbor’s dumpster so my landlord won’t get a citation for it (again).

  79. “Capsaicin, a neuritoxin, is wonderful if you are a human copping a buzz
    What is this buzz of which you speak?”
    A rush of endorphins. A really spicy dish will flood you with endorphins; probably only heroin is more intense.
    The endorphins are a response to the pain the capsaicin induces. This pain is what makes capsaicin a good dog repellent. It is especially effective if it goes up the dog’s nose, which is the absolute center of his/her consciousness.
    “I ended up tearing out that part of the lawn, which was brown and not really growing anyhow, and replacing it with a row of ordinary variegated hostas, which are pretty easy to propagate by dividing the roots. ”
    God will reward you. Lawns are evil.

  80. A.J.P. Crown says:

    I’m not a big fan of hostas. I associate them with dampness, but that’s just because I grew up in England (and they don’t need sun, but I do).
    Yes, you need a fence, because it’s great fun for dogs to be unleashed. They put one up here and then had to immediately rebuild it with the wire netting on the cows’ side of the fence posts instead of on the dogs’ side (cows being a lot stronger than dogs, they can rip the fencing off the posts just by leaning on it). This is the sort of thing that makes farmers look at city dwellers and go Duh.

  81. A really spicy dish will flood you with endorphins;
    I am remembering one of my adventures when I got bit by a scorpion in the middle of the night. My arthritis completely disappeared for a few days, not sure if it was the venom or the antivenom I got at the hospital. I have dumped some extra curry into my supper and will pay attention to what happens.
    I associate [hostas] with dampness
    The attraction of hostas is that they are one of the few plants that thrive in shade and damp, although they will grow anywhere. If you don’t like the ordinary ones you can get fancy varieties too. I like the ones with the huge blue leaves and white flowers.
    God will reward you. Lawns are evil.
    I now have a two-lawnmower-width border of hostas or daylilies all around the property which has cut my carbon footprint and my mowing time. I have my reward every time I walk into the yard and see lush green things instead of dog-mosaic patchy brown lawn. Also my rent doesn’t get raised when everybody else’s does. Last year I planted stealth ivy which after 3 years or so will gradually start to take over the whole shady area. If you put in some bright colored annuals it seems the landlords don’t care what else you do.

  82. David Marjanović says:

    Acorns don’t smell like they have hydrocyanic acid, but they may have enough to harm a person even so.

    What is this “even” you speak of? Hydrocyanic acid isn’t like hydrogen sulfide, which only becomes dangerous when you can’t smell it anymore. When you can smell hydrocyanic acid, it is already too late (or nearly so).

    Romance? Does the word refer to Italians and so on?

    Yes. Welsch is a poetic, perhaps somewhat derogatory term for “Italian” (the adjective only), Italy is called Włoch in Polish to this day, there are plenty of placenames in Austria and Switzerland where the settling Baiuvaric and Alemannic tribes encountered Romance-speaking populations (like the city of Wels in Upper Austria, which was Ovilava in antiquity; Straßwalchen; Wallis…), a German word for gibberish, Kauderwelsch, is derived from Churwelsch, referring to the Rhaetoromance spoken close to Chur in Switzerland, and the Romance-speaking parts of Switzerland (French: Suisse romande) are even today collectively referred to as Welschschweiz.
    And of course all etymological explanations of Walnuss I’ve seen derive it from welsche Nuss.
    I almost forgot Wallon!
    The term also got into South Slavic, where /vlax/ refers to the local Romance speakers; and a part of Romania is historically called Walachei in German.

    I saw the term “waelsisch”

    Would surprise me. In German, see above, it’s Welsch.

    By the way, I saw the term “wealh” etymologized as deriving from “Volcae”. Can anyone confirm or deny?

    I’ve seen mentions of this etymology several times.

    It could be simply that they identified both the Gauls and Romans with that warmer climate zone where walnuts grow

    Or the name given to the Gauls just didn’t change when they switched to speaking Latin.

    Closely related??? I can see beeches and chestnuts being related (beech nuts are a little similar to tiny chestnuts), but oaks?

    Botany is full of surprises that way. Oaks, like chestnuts, belong to the beech “family”, Fagaceae.

  83. There’s a Romance-speaking Vlach people in Greece. Michael Dukakis was a Vlach Greek.
    There’s a long string Gaul, Gael, Galatean, Galician, Welsh, Walloon, Wallachian, Vlach. It seems to me that in every language “foreigner” is the root meaning, and that it might mean Celtic, formerly-Celtic, Romance, or Slavic according to context.

  84. There’s a Romance-speaking Vlach people in Greece. Michael Dukakis was a Vlach Greek.
    There’s a long string Gaul, Gael, Galatean, Galician, Welsh, Walloon, Wallachian, Vlach. It seems to me that in every language “foreigner” is the root meaning, and that it might mean Celtic, formerly-Celtic, Romance, or Slavic according to context.

  85. A.J.P. Crown says:

    Oaks, like chestnuts, belong to the beech “family”, Fagaceae.
    I can’t imagine why. Beech has very shallow roots and doesn’t survive more than a couple of hundred years.

  86. “When you can smell hydrocyanic acid, it is already too late (or nearly so).”
    Come to think of it, you’re right. It’s a common blood agent, chemical weapon, and by the time you smell it, you’re too dead to smell it.
    “I can’t imagine why. Beech has very shallow roots and doesn’t survive more than a couple of hundred years.”
    Botany gets a lot weirder than that. Bean vines and great big towering acacias are in the same family, Fabaceae.

  87. David Marjanović says:

    it might mean Celtic, formerly-Celtic, Romance, or Slavic according to context.

    I’m not aware of it ever meaning Slavic.

    I can’t imagine why. Beech has very shallow roots and doesn’t survive more than a couple of hundred years.

    Count the shared innovations (synapomorphies), not the differences.

  88. Galicia, Poland.
    However, Wiki says that “Galicia” traces back to the name Halych, with the present name being derived from a folk etymology, perhaps when the name was romanized.
    Curse you, David M, for ruining my joke about Greater Galicia, which comprises the area inside that Galatea (Turkey) — Galicia (Prtugal) — Galicia (Poland). To be ruled by King Arthur upon his return, once he’s polished off Britain and Gaul.

  89. Galicia, Poland.
    However, Wiki says that “Galicia” traces back to the name Halych, with the present name being derived from a folk etymology, perhaps when the name was romanized.
    Curse you, David M, for ruining my joke about Greater Galicia, which comprises the area inside that Galatea (Turkey) — Galicia (Prtugal) — Galicia (Poland). To be ruled by King Arthur upon his return, once he’s polished off Britain and Gaul.

  90. marie-lucie says:

    Isn’t the Iberian Galicia in Spain rather than Portugal? (just North of Portugal, in fact).

  91. Yes, it is, but to John it’s all part of Greater Dravidia, so he’s not picky about the details.

  92. To Spanish imperialists, maybe. Soon enough Galicia will return to the motherland.

  93. To Spanish imperialists, maybe. Soon enough Galicia will return to the motherland.

  94. A.J.P. Crown says:

    Count the shared innovations (synapomorphies), not the differences.
    Thanks, David; a succinct explanation. That was bothering me.

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