My wife showed me a story in today’s paper with a photo caption reading “A motorist passes a pile of milo at a grain storage facility near Canton, Kan., Nov. 10,” pointed out that the word “milo” was mentioned nowhere in the story, and asked if I knew what it was. I said I didn’t, and went to the AHD, where I learned that it is “Any of various sorghums that are cultivated for their grain, which resembles millet. Also called grain sorghum.” The etymology was given as “Possibly from Afrikaans mealie, corn, probably from Portuguese milho, from Latin milium, millet; see MILLET.” The possibly/probably stuff made me curious, so I went to the OED (entry updated March 2002), where I found an entirely different etymology: “Origin uncertain; compare Southern Sotho maili, plural of lēili.” Odd. Here’s the rest of the OED entry:

A drought-resistant variety of the cereal grass sorghum, Sorghum bicolor, introduced from Africa and grown esp. in the central United States. More fully milo maize.

1882 Rep. Comm. Agric. Georgia 1881–2 23 My attention was some time since called to the claims of ‘Ivory wheat’ and ‘Millo Maize’ to a place in our long list of profitable food crops.
1920 U.S. Dept. Agric. Farmers’ Bull. No. 1147. 3 Milo has long since passed the experimental stage as a farm crop in the southwestern United States.
1937 Handbk. Farmers S. Afr. (S. Afr. Dept. Agric.) (new ed.) 684 Early types not belonging to the kaffir corns, such as Hegari, Milo and Feterita have been tried but have not met with wide success.
1965 T. Capote In Cold Blood (1966) i. 7 One of these barns..housed a dark, pungent hill of milo grain.
1996 A. Outwater Water 94 Up came the water for stock troughs and the vegetable garden and fruit trees, and soon for cash crops of corn and milo and wheat and cotton.

At any rate, I’m wondering how widespread knowledge of this word is; are you familiar with it?


  1. I am quite familiar with the word, and the grain, but I grew up within a hundred miles of Canton, KS.

  2. I grew up in California and it was planted all over the Valley. At first as a kid I would never recognize it and have to ask, and my dad called it “milo”.

  3. There’s a Milo breakfast cereal here in Asia but that seems to be a very false lead (with a surprise Ancient Greek connection, however):

  4. Memory lane for me – as a child in Australia I loved eating the powder unmixed, as a sweet, and in later years our young son used to drink it when we were in Jordan, where it was popular as it is throughout the Middle East, I believe..

  5. All about milo (except for the source of the cultivar and its name):

  6. Southern Ontario: never heard of it.

  7. marie-lucie says:

    As a child I read stories which had people eating le mil or le millet but did not know what it was until much later, after years in Canada when I found millet sold among cereals (not breakfast cereal, but as an alternative to rice and others). My impression is that le mil is grown in Southern France, perhaps mostly as animal feed. I am not sure about le millet. I have seen the word sorgho used for a kind of African cereal, and I think the dried stems are also used, for outdoor brooms and other items.

  8. le mil

    I looked this up and discovered that the -l, unlike the one in mil ‘thousand,’ is silent. Don’t mock us for our odd spelling/pronunciation habits, French people!

  9. From many drives through rural Indiana, I knew that there was a grain called “milo,” but apart from a guess that it was similar to millet, I knew nothing about it.

  10. J. W. Brewer says:

    Yes, but very very vaguely and I wouldn’t have been able to tell you whether it was a synonym for something also known by another name or a distinct name for a slight variant. I have the impressionistic sense that I’ve seen “sorghum” in more contexts recently than in prior years, I think because of the increasing vogue for gluten-free alternatives to food products traditionally made with wheat. Don’t think I’ve seen “milo” in those contexts, but am not sure if that’s because what is used is the non-milo variety of sorghum or if it’s been decided not to get into that level of detail in that context.

  11. CuConnacht says:

    I have seen the word only on labels of birdseed mixes.

  12. Nope.

  13. I know what milo the crop is, because of growing up in Africa, and hunting pheasants on the central plains of the US. Pheasants love milo.. have walked many a mile through the cold milo fields.

    Thank you Piotr for the link, more than I used to know about milo.

    as others noted, Milo is also a chocolate/malt drink powder, in Australia and other old English colonies. Wikipedia tells me that one was named after Milo of Croton, another thing I did not know until today.

  14. Ken Miner says:

    I lived in eastern KS (Lawrence) for 22 years teaching at KU and often drove through the state to get to Colorado, where I live now. I’ve heard of milo but when I would ask people “What is all that stuff?” (’cause it’s everywhere) they always said “Sorghum”.

  15. marie-lucie says:

    LH: le mil

    I looked this up and discovered that the -l, unlike the one in mil ‘thousand,’ is silent.

    I did not know that (having only seen le mil (cereal), not heard the word). But it makes sense when taken together with le millet where the -ll is [i], as also in gentil/gentille where the final written l in the first version does not correspond to a sound.

  16. Stephen Bruce says:

    For the millet mil TLFI gives [mil], [mij], so in the second pronunciation the l indicates [j] (to rhyme with fille) and is not completely silent as in gentil, outil, etc. Littré says “mil (mill, ll mouillées. La Fontaine ne mouillait pas l’l : je la crois fine, dit-il ; Mais le moindre grain de mil Ferait bien mieux mon affaire, Fabl. I, 20).”

    There’s apparently even a third meaning, “Petite massue en bois utilisée en gymnastique.”

  17. Yes, Milo is a popular chocolaty drink for children in Australia. It’s also sold (or used to be sold) in Japan as ミロ miro.

    For some reason I also knew that milo is a grain, although the first time I heard this I think I found it a bit of a stretch making the connection with the drink. I figured that Milo must have some kind of milo in it….

  18. Zythophile says:

    I see (or, rather, hear) the AHD gives the pronunciation ‘my-low’ – does that not rule out a derivation from mealie/millet?

  19. Reading the article on Milo linked to by Piotr Gąsiorowski, I noticed the following:

    From the standpoint of grain production it had, besides these desirable characters, several very objectionable habits. These were (1) the abundant stooling, (2) the free branching, (3) the size and height of the stem, and (4) the pendent, or ” goosenecked,” heads.

    The use of ‘the’ in some of these struck me as unidiomatic in modern-day English. I’ve read somewhere (possibly Languagelog, possibly elsewhere) that the use of the definite article has gradually been decreasing in English prose. This looks like an example illustrating the trend.

  20. Never heard of milo. Or Milo, for that matter. But reading this thread it occurred to me that perhaps Milo the drink contains malted milo. I checked Wikipedia and found out that’s not the case; Milo contains malted grains though (wheat or barley). Now that this important matter is cleared up I can get back to work.

  21. Bathrobe, I don’t find those articles unidiomatic at all, though the sentence without them would be fine too. Googling for “these were the * and the *” produces plenty of hits, many of them from the late 20C or 21C.

  22. I don’t find those articles unidiomatic at all

    Same here, but we’re both old farts who have not kept up with the latest trends in article disuse.

  23. Ontario and Israel. Unknown to me. There’s a Hebrew Wiki entry for durra indicating that word is a synonym for sorghum. Can’t find a Hebrew mention of anything similar called milo. I recall millet as an ingredient of birdseed and vaguely knew that millet is sometimes consumed by humans in Africa.

  24. The only Milos I know are the kid from The Phantom Tollbooth and Milo Minderbinder from Catch-22, he of the chocolate-covered cotton.

  25. Everybody has a share!

  26. “Milo took a firm moral stand and absolutely refused to participate in the Glorious Loyalty Oath Crusade until Captain Black called upon him with his delegation and requested him to.”

    “Milo was not only the Vice-Shah of Oran, as it turned out, but also the Caliph of Baghdad, the Imam of Damascus, and the Sheik of Araby. Milo was the corn god, the rain god and the rice god in backward regions where such crude gods were still worshipped by ignorant and superstitious people, and deep inside the jungles of Africa, he intimated with becoming modesty, large graven images of his mustached face could be found overlooking primitive stone altars red with human blood. Everywhere they touched he was acclaimed with honor, and it was one triumphal ovation after another for him in city after city. ”

  27. My father used to talk about “Milo of Croatia” (misremembering Milo of Crotona) and how he lifted a calf over his head every day so that he was still able to do it when it had grown into a full-size bull.

  28. Stephen Bruce says:

    Milo sure does get around… Here’s what else he’s been up to:

    [Milo] of Crotona, a celebrated athlete, six times victor in wrestling at the Olympic Games, and as often at the Pythian. He was one of the followers of Pythagoras, and also commanded the army which defeated the Sybarites, B.C. 511. Many stories are related of his extraordinary feats of strength: such as his carrying a heifer four years old on his shoulders through the stadium at Olympia, and afterwards eating the whole of it in a single day. Passing through a forest in his old age, he saw the trunk of a tree which had been partially split open by wood-cutters, and attempted to rend it further, but the wood closed upon his hands, and thus held him fast, in which state he was attacked and devoured by wolves ( Gell.xv. 16).

    Then he showed up in Rome:

    Titus Annius Milo Papiniānus, was born at Lanuvium, of which place he was in B.C. 53 dictator or chief magistrate. As tribune of the plebs, B.C. 57, Milo took an active part in obtaining Cicero’s recall from exile; and from this time he carried on a fierce and memorable contest with P. Clodius. In 53 Milo was candidate for the consulship, and Clodius for the praetorship of the ensuing year. Each of the candidates kept a gang of gladiators, and there were frequent combats between the rival ruffians in the streets of Rome. At length, on the 20th of January, 52, Milo and Clodius met apparently by accident at Bovillae, on the Appian Way. An affray ensued between their followers, in which Clodius was slain. At Rome such tumults followed upon the burial of Clodius that Pompey was appointed sole consul in order to restore order to the State. Milo was brought to trial. He was defended by Cicero; but was condemned, and went into exile at Massilia (Marseilles). The soldiers who lined the Forum intimidated Cicero, and he could not deliver the oration which he had prepared. Milo returned to Italy in 48, in order to support the revolutionary schemes of the praetor, M. Caelius; but he was slain under the walls of an obscure fortress in Thurii. Milo, in 57, married Fausta, a daughter of the dictator Sulla, a worthless woman with whom the historian Sallust carried on an intrigue, for which he was soundly beaten by Milo.

    (From Harper’s Dictionary of Classical Antiquities)

    “Worthless woman”! Ah, the old days of academic writing…

  29. J. W. Brewer says:

    I certainly know the Phantom Toothbooth character, but my other immediate association is the Milo character from Bloom County. Not sure if this is a generational-cohort difference between me and John Cowan, or something else.

  30. Trond Engen says:

    This is what Milo means to me.

  31. A Google search for “milo, grain’ brought up this article: . I also grew up in the San Joaquin Valley ( in the 1940s and 50s, and the red tassled plants were visible everywhere. In the late 1990s, I asked a Valley farmer whether anyone still grew milo. His response was that it was no longer a profitable crop.

  32. Milo of Crotona (“Croatia” is good) I certainly know. For whatever reason, not generational I think, I never found Bloom County appealing. At the time I was a Far Side and Doonesbury kinda guy, with the caveat that I basically didn’t see any comic strips in the newspapers, only when they came out as books.

  33. I lived in northeastern Kansas for ten years, and many people were aware of “milo” being grown in some areas. More academic types would typically add “…also known as sorghum.”

  34. I read Bloom County off and on for a couple of years before I found out that kid’s name was Milo. I just knew him as “Bloom.” (And just now I had to stop and think to come up with his friend Binkley’s first name: “Mike.”)

  35. “Milo of Croatia” has 9 Google hits, one of which is me mentioning the same thing in the comments on a Language Hat post on sorites seven years ago, which I’d completely forgotten.

  36. David Marjanović says:

    I recall millet as an ingredient of birdseed and vaguely knew that millet is sometimes consumed by humans in Africa.

    Also in so-called Central Europe; with carrots and celeriac, it’s an infrequent but regular dish at my parents’ place. But even in a pressure cooker* it’s not trivial to boil well enough.

    * Common household item over here, unlike apparently in the US.

  37. You can get Milo (the drink) in London, as I’m sure you can in the States unless it’s a threat to national security as many cheeses seem to be, but as everyone who comes from a Milo country knows, the first question is “Is it Australian Milo? South African Milo ? Kenyan Milo ?” etc. The taste is very distinctive and if it’s not what you had as a child it’s a huge disappointment. There can be few people from a Milo country who haven’t been asked by friends to bring back a tub whenever they have been back to the mother country.

    As a child in South Africa I had always assumed the name was something to do with mielie-meal (everyone thought of Milo as South African; no-one knew of the drink’s foreign origin, but we didn’t even have TV then so no-one knew much). I had no idea it was named after Milo of Croton.

  38. My mother had a pressure cooker, which I inherited but mostly use as a Really Big Pot. I’m not even sure where the weight that goes on the release valve is any more.

  39. What I found vaguely unidiomatic was things like “the abundant stooling”, where I would perhaps prefer “its abundant stooling” or “the abundant stooling of the plant”. “The abundant stooling” sounds strange to me here since it must be the abundant stooling of something — even though the context does make it clear that it’s the abundant stooling of the milo plant that’s involved.

  40. “I have heard speak,” said Porthos, “of a certain Milo of Crotona, who performed wonderful feats, such as binding his forehead with a cord and bursting it – of killing an ox with a blow of his fist and carrying it home on his shoulders, et cetera. I used to learn all these feat by heart yonder, down at Pierrefonds, and I have done all that he did except breaking a cord by the corrugation of my temples.”

    “Because your strength is not in your head, Porthos,” said his friend.

    “No; it is in my arms and shoulders,” answered Porthos with gratified naivete.

    Chapter 84 – Strength And Sagacity — Continued

  41. binding his forehead with a cord and bursting it

    For a moment I thought he was bursting his forehead!

  42. Trond Engen says:

    Me too. I first had to think that anyone could tighten a string using a stick for leverage..

  43. Zelený drak says:

    Mămăliga“, the traditional dish from Romania, was made from millet before maize (corn) was introduced in the region.

  44. The same is true, I have read, of the Georgian ghomi (ღომი), a similar sort of dish.

  45. millet is sometimes consumed by humans in Africa.

    And in Asia. Millet porridge is delicious. I think that recently millets have become trendy in certain kinds of restaurants, since they are healthier than rice and also traditional. (I was looking for a traditional recipe to link, but who can resist rose-infused millet porridge?

  46. I only see the word in birdseed ingredients. I know that milo and millet and sorghum are all related but I couldn’t be confident just what relations.

  47. bud driver says:

    grew up in texas although living last 44 yrs in australia. milo and hegari were common crops-milo reddish and hegari black and white.hegari was pronounced “high gear”and i was quite surprised when i saw the written form for the first.

  48. bud driver says:

    final bit should be first time.

  49. Before the introduction of the divine and blessed (if subject to rots) potato, the Irish mostly ate millet, the only grain that would grow in their bogs, and starved accordingly. Post-potato, the Irish population expanded eightfold, then shrank by a quarter during the Great Famine (by emigration and disease, especially typhus and cholera, more than direct starvation).

  50. I HATE millet porridge!

  51. David Marjanović says:

    Boil it and add a kind of soup of carrots and celeriac.

  52. January First-of-May says:

    Only “Milo” things I can recall are Milo(n) of Croton* and Venus de Milo. I think I might have heard of some of the cartoon characters named Milo, but can’t recall any specifically.

    I’m vaguely familiar with “sorghum” as a kind of African grain (сорго in Russian), but I have no idea where or how is this grain used, or even what it looks like.
    I’m slightly less vaguely familiar with “millet” as the English name of the grain known in Russian as просо or пшено, depending on whether it’s dehusked**; the porridge made from the latter, пшённая каша, is one of my favorite dishes, especially with pumpkin… mmm!

    On the subject of vague sound-alikes, мило is, of course, a Russian neuter adjective that can be vaguely translated as “cute” (sadly I can’t recall whether there is a better-fitting English word for that).

    *) Not sure how I even recognized that name – the Russian is Милон. Maybe I’ve just seen enough references to him in English?

    **) As I have previously mentioned in this Language Log thread, featuring, among other things, an extended discussion of Middle Korean and the incredible phrase “lions, especially the sea varieties”, but, sadly, no further commentary regarding that particular mention.

  53. per incuriam says:

    Before the introduction of the divine and blessed (if subject to rots) potato, the Irish mostly ate millet, the only grain that would grow in their bogs, and starved accordingly

    Would you have a reference for this?

  54. I would not. Indeed, it is not true: the predominant grain in Ireland before the 17C was oats, followed by barley. But the waterlogged nature of most Irish land does indeed make it unsuitable for grain, and Ireland’s pasturelands have supported cattle from time immemorial. Dairy was an essential part of the diet in both the pre-potato and potato eras.

  55. Before introduction of potato, the Icelanders survived on lamb, fish and cheese.

  56. According to this Icelandic food writer, pollen in soil samples shows that they also grew barley at first, until it collapsed in the Little Ice Age, and was replaced by imported rye.

    The German cartographer Martin Behaim wrote this on his globe of 1492: “In Iceland are found men of eighty years who have never tasted bread. In this country no corn is grown, and instead fish is eaten.” The first part of his statement is certainly incorrect, bread was not that rare, but it certainly wasn’t everyday food for poorer people. They buttered their dried fish and ate it instead.

    Can’t resist a mention of Behaim’s globe!

  57. January First-of-May says:

    I think I have figured out why Milo as a name felt vaguely familiar to me – Milo Aukerman, a fairly obscure singer (and biochemist) who happens to have a known finite Erdős-Bacon-Sabbath number.

    Still think it might also have been a cartoon character.

  58. J.W. Brewer says:

    While I have long been familiar with the work of Milo Aukerman as well as that of (fictitious cartoon character) Milo Bloom and the (fictitious and I think surnameless) Milo who is the central character in The Phantom Tollbooth, I regret to say that it’s probably right that Dr. Aukerman remains comparatively obscure in the wider world. I tried to do my part in disseminating not-yet-Dr. Aukerman’s voice over the airwaves back when I was a college-radio DJ in the ’80’s, but I only had 1200 watts to work with.

  59. January First-of-May says:

    Still think it might also have been a cartoon character.

    …In retrospect, perhaps Milo Amastacia-Liadon of Harry Potter and the Natural 20.

  60. David Marjanović says:

    I had millet today! Thorougly steamed as described above. And since the previous mentions I’ve learned that its German name, Hirse, is cognate with none less than Ceres herself.

    as a child in Australia I loved eating the powder unmixed, as a sweet

    I do that with unabridged Ovomaltine.

    The variant with added chocolate powder, though, is better dissolved in milk.

  61. David Eddyshaw says:

    Various sort of millet* are the staple food for the Kusaasi, and indeed throughout a great deal of the less-rainy bits of Africa.

    The Kusaasi eat it as a porridge, which goes by the evocative name of “TZ” /ti:zɛd/ in local English. It is the sort of thing that foreigners boast of having actually managed to eat, like haggis. It looks like the kind of slush that’s been on the ground for a few days and gone sort of brownish. Teh hardcorez reheat it in the morning and eat it for breakfast in chunks. I think you get automatic Ghanaian citizenship if you can do that. (There’s an actual word for “last night’s porridge.” A local village is named after it.)

    Millet beer, on the other hand, is OK. No hardship at all consuming that. (It’s better not to know how it’s made, though. Saliva is involved.)

    *Kusaal has za and ki; I never managed to identify exactly what sort of millet each word referred to, and the various Western Oti-Volta dictionaries don’t help much with the cognate words in other languages either.

  62. You can make haggis with millet instead of oats, I suppose. Toss in some durian too.

  63. John Emerson says:

    When I was a kid less than 10 years old our dad took us on a trip from MN through IA and MO to Arkansas, and when I saw sorghum planted where corn should be, I had an eerie feeling, like the aliens had changed everything.

    It was also on this trip that I first heard Sam Cooke and James Brown, and I had the same feeling of wrongness. I was actually pretty musical, but the styles I knew were Lutheran church music (essentially classical style) and white pop (not even rock n roll yet).

  64. John Emerson says:

    Millet was the staple of the earliest Chinese. Rice came quite late, when south China became Chinese. Wheat replaced millet at some point, but IIRC millet retained ritual importance.

Speak Your Mind