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. 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.

  65. I see nobody in this longish thread had anything to say about the etymology; I just checked Wiktionary and found none there. Will this forever remain a mystery?

  66. Rank speculation here just to jump start the conversation, but could the Sotho form be the English, Afrikaans, or Portuguese word accommodated to Bantu morphology? This would be along the lines of Swahili kinara “candlestick”, formed—by transference to class VII (ki-) for diminutives and implements—from mnara, “minaret, tower, lighthouse” (class III? in m-, pl. mi-) from Arabic منارة manāra, accommodated to Swahili noun classes so that the element -nara could be extracted. Or so I have read. Could something similar have happened with Portuguese milho or Afrikaans mealie in Sotho? This is very much out of my bailiwick and I am not qualified to speculate, but the topic is interesting.

  67. ktschwarz says

    Through the magic of Hathitrust, I think I’ve found the solution. This will be long, hope it’s OK. First, some slight antedatings from earlier in 1882:

    Supplemental Report of the Department of Agriculture of Georgia for 1881, dated January 20, 1882. p.35. Another variety reported by Rev. Mr. Pratt, of S. C., as forming a large part of the daily food of the people of the States of Colombia in South America, known there as “Millo Maize,” pronounced “Melio Maize,” has given very remarkable results, yielding fine crops where corn totally failed under exactly the same circumstances. source

    Department of Agriculture Special Report No. 49, dated September 1882. p.18. Georgia statistical agent:— … Experiments with the “rural branching sorghum,” which proves to be identical with the Millo maize of Colombia, South America, recently introduced by Rev. Mr. Pratt, of South Carolina, are so far very satisfactory. It tillers immensely and produces a very large quantity of forage and seed per acre. source

    Southern Planter v.43 no.15, October 1882. p.192. Another New Cereal. Rev. H. B. Pratt, of Winnsboro, S. C., who was for some time a missionary in South America, calls attention in the Southern journals to a food plant which grows abundantly in Colombia, and which he believes will do remarkably well in portions of this country. Its especial merit consists in its ability to grow during severe and protracted drouths. He does not give its botanical name, but calls it millo (pronounced meel-yeomaize). [sic parentheses] source

    Given the search terms “sorghum”, “H. B. Pratt”, and “Colombia” along with “millo”, Google produced many sources on the Rev. Pratt and his seeds. Here’s a reminiscence from his son:

    Journal of the American Society Of Agronomy vol.39, July 1947. p.937.
    Additional Information Concerning the Introduction of Milo into the United States.
    Since the publication of the early history and of the evolution of milo in the United States, additional information has come to light concerning the introduction of the crop and how it derived its name. The late B. G. Pratt, who for many years was engaged in the manufacture of insecticides at Hackensack, N. J., and who recently died at the age of 85 has furnished the writers of this article with the following information.

    The father of B. G. Pratt, the Rev. H. B. Pratt, a graduate of Princeton Seminary, went to Barranquilla, Colombia, as a missionary in 1869. The Rev. Pratt was interested in plant life and became acquainted with the numerous sorghum varieties being grown in his vicinity under the name of “Maiz Millo”. There is no available information concerning the introduction of Maiz Millo into Colombia. Upon returning to the United States about 1879, he brought seed of one variety of sorghum and planted it in his garden at Winnsboro, S. C., where he was pastor of the First Presbyterian Church. As a Christmas present he wrote an advertisement for the Winnsboro News and Herald on “Millo Maize” and gave it to his 18-year-old son, B. G. Pratt, along with 45 pounds of seed. The seed was sold at 25 cents for 2 ounces. In 1881, B. G. Pratt rented a small piece of land to grow a seed crop and in 1882 applied for a patent on the name “Millo maize” which was granted by the Patent Office but was later revoked apparently at the instigation of J. H. Alexander, a seedsman, of Atlanta, Ga. Alexander claimed that the Millo Maize introduced by Rev. H. B. Pratt and Rural Branching Sorghum were identical varieties.

    In the years immediately following the introduction of “Millo maize” by Rev. H. B. Pratt, B. G. Pratt purchased all of the “Millo maize” he could and sold it through an Atlanta, Ga., office operated by an uncle Charles Pratt. By 1885 or 1886, however, the identity of the original introduction was lost since seedsmen had been selling seed as Rural Branching Sorghum or Millo Maize, and B. G. Pratt went out of the seed business.

    Apparently there can be no question but what the name “Millo maize” was originated by Rev. H. B. Pratt who anglacised the Spanish name “Maiz Millo” which means corn millet. There is, however, some question whether or not the variety brought into the United States from South America was a new variety or was actually identical to Rural Branching Sorghum.

    Sorghum was brought from Africa via the slave trade, so I guess it must have gotten to Colombia from the Caribbean. It’s still grown in Colombia, but I don’t know how to find out whether it’s still called millo there; I’ll leave that to someone with knowledge of botany and Spanish. At any rate, the origin in Spanish looks good.

  68. Great finds!

  69. Giacomo Ponzetto says

    Google confirms the term maíz millo is still used for sorghum in Colombia.

    At any rate, the plain word millo or mijo is used so widely in Spanish it can refer not only to millet, but also to sorghum, or even maize. Just when you thought at least wheat must be excluded, the DRAE reports that mijo ceburro is a synonym for trigo candeal—itself an unclear term that may refer to either soft or durum wheats.

    Sorghum seems to be more commonly called maicillo, which looks like an obvious diminutive of maíz but might also have something to do with maíz millo.

  70. Now the question is, how and when did “meel-yeo” become “my-low”? The latter is a natural spelling pronunciation, but how would a spelling pronunciation have taken over when the earlier one was presumably in common use?

  71. Thank you ktschwarz! This is delightful.

    So the Sotho forms quoted by the OED could be Afrikaans mielie or English milo accommodated to Sotho morphology, with the initial m- taken as a noun class prefix?

  72. ktschwarz says

    Thanks Giacomo! Good to have confirmation.

    The pronunciation “meel-yeo” was probably never in common use in the US. The word was probably spread at first mostly by writing, as the new seed was publicized in farming journals and sold by mail order (here’s an advertisement for Genuine Pratt’s “Millo Maize” in The Maryland Farmer, 1882).

    The earliest dictionary that I could find with an etymology for milo is Webster’s New World Dictionary from 1960, which says “Bantu (Sesuto) maiḷi”. (I don’t know what the underdotted l means; it must be an obsolete orthography, since Wikipedia on “Sesotho orthography” doesn’t mention any underdot.) This dictionary is excellent overall on etymology—when I said general dictionaries didn’t do original etymology, that was 2021 cynicism talking—but they missed the relevant primary sources on this one. This origin was copied by many other dictionaries, often complete with underdot, though the AHD (first edition, 1969) and OED (Supplement, 1976) at least rechecked it enough to remove the underdot. The OED got one of the earliest primary sources, but missed the ones that mentioned Colombia.

    The AHD must have diligently rechecked their etymologies and found something that they thought disqualified Sotho, since they changed it to Afrikaans in the 3rd edition (1992). Of course, rechecking the primary sources would’ve been prohibitively difficult back then.

    South African English mealie, mielie, from Afrikaans, is now specifically maize (Dictionary of South African English), but it was presumably millet when Dutch got the word from French several hundred years ago. As for Sotho, I have no idea, I don’t even know how to verify whether maili is really a Sotho word and what it means.

    If you want a sorghum that really does have a provably African name, there’s imphee or imfe, from Zulu (Dictionary of South African English).

  73. The pronunciation “meel-yeo” was probably never in common use in the US. The word was probably spread at first mostly by writing, as the new seed was publicized in farming journals and sold by mail order

    That makes sense. I’m glad I revived the etymological aspect of this thread!

  74. Owlmirror says

    Any connection between trigo candeal and triticale?

  75. Yahyaoğlu says

    About the AHD3 changing its etymology… Nick Clements was the consultant for African languages for that edition. His work on that edition was extensive and diligent. Unfortunately all his notes to the AHD editors, along with all the other paper files for that edition, were probably thrown away when Houghton Mifflin Harcourt closed its lexicographical department a few years ago. So it would be impossible to check why the etymology was changed.

  76. Thank you for all your research, ktschwarz!
    There is also this word for millet:

    Could the Sotho be this, with lenition and loss of b, I wonder?

  77. Psheno/proso always seemed rather neutral to me, even though as a child I hated almost everything. I was surprised that some hate millet, and I wonder how much different varieties differ in taste. Psheno. When you cook it, it looks about the same, just cooked. And it clearly does not match DE’s description: “It looks like the kind of slush that’s been on the ground for a few days and gone sort of brownish. “.

    I looked up millet in Wikipedia and was pleased to find “proso millet” in the list of its sorts.

    A compound similar to maíz millo. But millo is “maize” in Portuguese and Spanishes that borrowed it. How come that a kind of sorghum is “maize maize”?

  78. Kibi dango are simple Japanese sweets that are deeply rooted in Japanese culture. They consist of sticky dough that combines rice and millet flour, and the combination is then shaped into large round balls.

  79. And Wikipedia also has “Awaokoshi, candied millet puffs, are a specialty of Osaka, Japan. This millet confection tradition began when it was presented to Sugawara no Michizane* when he stopped in Naniwa during the early Heian period, about 1000 years ago.

    and Bánh đa kê.

    *Sugawara no Michizane , also known as Kan Shōjō (菅丞相) or Kanke (菅家), was a scholar, poet, and politician of the Heian Period of Japan. He is regarded as an excellent poet, particularly in Kanshi poetry, and is today revered in Shinto as the god of learning, Tenman-Tenjin .

    Japanese are good at advertizing sweets.

  80. PlasticPaddy says

    If it is millet kasha people do not like, it may not be the millet, but the consistency. Some food looks like it has already been in someone’s stomach ????

  81. Trond Engen says

    I didn’t know what they had for breakfast until it came up in conversation.

  82. PlasticPaddy, maybe my positive impression of millet is based on that it never looked like that. Except (possibly milk based?) in school cafeteria. Everything in school cafeteria looked like that. In my second school they sold sweets, and since then my school diet was sweets only;)

  83. David Marjanović says

    Any connection between trigo candeal and triticale?

    No, triticale is a hybrid of Triticum (wheat) and Secale (rye).

  84. January First-of-May says

    “It looks like the kind of slush that’s been on the ground for a few days and gone sort of brownish. “

    …in retrospect, that sounds a lot less like пшёнка (millet porridge) and a lot more like овсянка (oatmeal porridge), which is indeed memetically bad, and does look quite brownish-slushy.

    Ironically enough, both of those often seem to taste better after being left out overnight. (At some point I managed to google up the reason – it was something to do with starch, IIRC – but I tried again just now and couldn’t find any relevant results.)

    Except (possibly milk based?) in school cafeteria. Everything in school cafeteria looked like that.

    I was lucky to mostly study in schools where the cafeteria actually had really nice food. Except the oatmeal. I couldn’t get through more than about two spoons of the oatmeal before I was tired of taking out the husks.

    I also couldn’t manage mashed potatoes and some of the sauces (probably also for consistency reasons), but that was fortunately not very common.

  85. @January First-of-May: Ironically, In the English-speaking world, oatmeal is considered one of the best of all porridges. (It can still come in for mockery though, particularly in England, just for being porridge.) In America, the commonly eaten porridges are oatmeal and grits (made from coarsely-ground maize). However, oatmeal cannot easily be made from unprocessed grain. At a minimum, the oats should be either steel cut or rolled, and rolled oats can be further processed to make instant oatmeal; plain oats are strictly horse fodder.

    If your oatmeal seemed full of husks, it was not being cooked properly. (Getting the bran out of grits is an entirely different matter; the ground maize has to be washed at least twice to skim off the husky fragments.) Most likely, your oatmeal was simply undercooked, which is virtually certain to happen if one tries cooking unprocessed oats and which is also an easy way to screw up even processed oats. (My father always undercooked steel-cut oats, leaving residual tough kernels. He had no idea he was bungling the dish though, as his own mother’s cooling was no better. Grandma is a wonderful woman, but she has always been a lousy cook. Since my grandfather died almost thirty years ago, she has hardly cooked more than three or four times a year. I had no idea what proper steel-cut oat porridge was supposed to taste like until my wife made it.)

  86. January First-of-May says

    If your oatmeal seemed full of husks, it was not being cooked properly.

    “Husks” was what Google provided as the translation of шелуха, which is the word I know for those unpalatable fragments; Russian Wikipedia claims that “bran” means отруби, which I mostly know as something that bread can be with, but from the description that does sound like it could be what I got.
    I’m not sure if more cooking could have put those things into an edible form. I rather doubt that, but I suppose in principle it’s possible. I suspect that this much cooking would have made a uniform mess of the rest of it though.

    I grew up with овсяные хлопья, aka rolled oats; more recently the (much tastier, and husk-fragment-less) version we’ve been using is овсяная крупа, which might be either steel-cut oats or (more likely) plain whole oat groats. It had to be cooked for a long time (multiple hours), but after that it was ludicrously tasty.

  87. “ A compound similar to maíz millo. But millo is “maize” in Portuguese and Spanishes that borrowed it. How come that a kind of sorghum is “maize maize”? ”

    If “millo” is a version of “mijo” then it means millet. “Maíz millo” is not so much “maize maize” as it is “millet maize”. It is the plant being called maize and described as like millet.

    I know that the RAE’s dictionary lists maize as the third definition for “mijo” but if there is a variety of Spanish that uses “millo” or “mijo” for maize it must be a local one. I’ve never heard anyone use “millo” instead of “maíz”. Sorghum was introduced to the area I lived in Mexico when I was younger around the 90s or early 2000s but we always called it “sorgo”. Wikipedia does mention “maicillo” or “little maize” as another name for sorghum.

  88. @Pancho, my impression was based on English Wiktionary and Spanish Wikipedia.

    millo in E. Wiktionary:

    Galician, 1. (dated) millet 2. maize (plant) 3. maize (grain)
    and millo miúdo for millet.
    Old Portuguese, “millet”
    Spanish, (Canary Islands): “maize”. “borrowed from Portuguese milho. Doublet of mijo
    “Doublet of mijo” suggests that a meaning “millet” also exists.
    milho is “maize” in Portuguese, with milheto and milhete for “millet”.

    Spanish Wikipedia redirects you to “Zea mays” from “Millo”.

    I did not go further, because I simply do not know a good dictionary for regional differences:( I assumed that “maize” is the most common meaning in many places.

  89. I understand that a shift “millet” > “maize” (with millet becoming little millet) has happened or is happening in some varieties (Spanish and Portuguese), and that in some -ll- word co-exists with -j- word.

    But I can’t reconstruct the whole picture, with people encountering these crops, borrowing forms and with meanings evolving, and I can’t place maíz millo in it.

  90. ktschwarz says

    On whether millet is edible, our friend the Rev. H. B. Pratt writes to the Winnsboro, S.C. News and Herald:

    I committed a serious error last spring in publishing my commendations of this remarkable grain under the name of “Colombian Millet”. Our people, poor as they are, are above planting millet for food. Hoping for a better success this time, I give it its Colombian name, “Millo Corn”, which is just the English of “Maiz Millo.”
    Jan. 4, 1882

    (Precisely which species of millet he’s referring to, I dunno.)

  91. Drasvi, if you go to the Spanish Wikipedia page for “Zea Mays” under Terminología > Nombres comunes it gives millo ( from Latin “milium”) among other names but further down it only mentions the Canary Islands as place where the word is used and as a borrowing from Portuguese (as the Wiktionary entry also states.)

    I would say that in most places “mijo” is more common than “millo” and it is with the meaning of “millet” except, it seems, in the Canary Islands where it is “millo” and means “maize”. As I wrote, it is a local variety of Spanish that uses it. That said, a lot of Canary Islanders settled in the Caribbean so maybe there are places in that area that use it too. Barranquilla, Colombia was mentioned above and it is on the Caribbean coast.

    As a native speaker I would say that “maíz” is by far the most common word for “maize/corn”. Even among Mexicans it is the common name for the plant in Spanish though we’ll use other words for its parts or as an ingredient, etc.

    However, if you say “mijo” to the average person he’ll first think of the common contraction for “my son” (mi hijo > mijo) and then of millet if he remembers the plant, not of “maize/corn”. I think a non Canary Islander might not even recognize “millo”. The RAE dictionary gives “Can.” for “Canarias” and “Sal.” for what I suppose is Salamanca as the places where it is used for maize and gives millet as the primary definition for “millo”.

  92. Corominas says that the meaning ‘maize’ is used in the Canaries, Galicia, and Salamanca. He also notes that while mijo comes from Latin mĭlĭum, the Spanish and Occitan reflect an apparent long vowel, as if the source were *mīlĭum. This he attributes, following Brüch, to the influence (I guess he means folk etymology) of mil, referring to the many small seeds in each ear of millet.

  93. “Doublet of mijo” suggests that a meaning “millet” also exists.

    No, it just means the two words come from the same preform. It says nothing about meaning.

  94. @Pancho, thank you! If millo is millet, then maíz millo makes sense, of course.

    Having this said, what makes food and clothing etymology interesing is how it reflects history of food and clothing, and it is still unclear why “millo” found its way in Spanish at all, why its meaning shifted to “maize” in Portuguese/Galician/Canary and how sorghum came to Columbia.

    Here millet is the smallest grain available, and corn is the largest. Very dissimilar. But we don’t make flour from either, so maybe it is flour that united them.

    .No, it just means the two words come from the same preform.

    Technically, yes. I just though that they are less likely to call a borrowing “doublet” if it came in a new meaning. I expected to find both meanings for millo and then I found only “maize”. This line strenghtened my suspicion that a meaning “millet” exists

  95. PlasticPaddy says

    You seem to have a very restrictive definition of flour if this does not qualify:
    You could say masa harina is not typically baked into the same variety of breads and cakes as wheat flour, and maybe also not typically used for noodles, but that might be just for historical reasons.

  96. I just though that they are less likely to call a borrowing “doublet” if it came in a new meaning.

    No, really, meaning is irrelevant. Check out the doublets here (e.g. host/guest, capital/cattle, plant/clan, chrism/grime).

  97. @Paddy: I assume when drasvi wrote “But we don’t make flour from either”, he probably was referring to traditional use in Russia, not to humanity on the whole. AFAIK, Russia is similar to Germany and other Northern parts of Europe in that maize is mostly used as a basis for animal feeds, as the summers are to wet, cool, and short for maize to ripen fully. Maize flour is an exotic ingredient here.

  98. @PlasticPaddy, by “we” I mean “in Russia”. I think we use any flour, but I just never came across anythign made from millet and maize flour that was not called “tortillas”. I exactly meant that from my Russian experience I may be unable to see an obvious connection between the two.

    @LH, yes and no. Yes, because if I thought about this, I would have written it differently. I am grateful for your correction.

    No, because I did not mean that “doublet” is defined this way. I was speaking about my expectations from Wiktionary editors….

    But: I was reading about “mijo”, the main word for millet. “Doublet of millo” made me think that they are synonyms. Maybe I decided that the editor would not have thought about adding a [rarer, specialized, regional, Portuguese] millo otherwise.

  99. John Cowan says

    Plus our good old sextuplet: dish, discus, disk/disc, desk, dais, disco.

  100. I did not mean that “doublet” is defined this way. I was speaking about my expectations from Wiktionary editors….

    Ah, then I imagine you’re right — you have more experience with them than I.

  101. No way to tell if I was right or not:( It was intuition and in a different entry my intuition could react differnetly.

    I never edited Wiktionary, I do not know who and how compiles it and normally I do not use it for etymologies. It is convenient to reference it here because entries often contain dozens of useful links (and because it is accessible in one click…). But I am starting to doubt now that it is a good practice. (Especially seeing how* Xerîb is doing his “part to maintain it as a beacon of attentiveness and clear thinking for the topics on which [Xerîb] can contribute”).

    * well, that is:/

  102. David Marjanović says

    Cornmeal (Polenta) is a staple food in southern Austria, and cheaply available in Austrian supermarkets. In Berlin, not every supermarket carries it, and it’s ridiculously expensive.

  103. John Cowan says

    IMO Wikt is actually the best semi-technical source for etymologies, though I do wish they cited their sources. OED is either obsolete or vague (I suppose so that it doesn’t become obsolete) and Etymonline helps with English words only.

    There are various explanations, but there is rough consensus that polenta is made from flint corn and grits from dent corn that has been treated with alkali to remove the individual husks. In the U.S., dent corn (field corn, Indian corn) is grown for ethanol and as animal feed, with a lesser amount for corn syrup, corn oil, etc.

    There is enough dent corn field area to more than cover California; sweet corn by comparison is planted on just 40,000 acres ~ 16,000 ha, of which 2/3 is canned or frozen or used in frozen dishes. Flint corn, which has less of the soft starch that gives dent corn its name, is grown for popcorn for decorative purposes, and as horse fodder, they being the only commonly kept animals that can actually chew it enough to be digestible. But hey, both polenta and grits taste good if properly buttered and salted!

  104. @ktschwarz: That millet is normally considered beneath human consumption is a plot point in Seven Samurai. The peasants, having nothing else to pay them with, have reserved all their rice for the samurai, leaving only millet for themselves.

    @John Cowan: I’ve seen lots of polenta in Europe that was made from dent cord, often un-hominied (or, rather, not nixtamalizated) unlike typical grits. It’s harder to make coarse polenta from flint corn than dent corn, just because of the extra hardness.

  105. If Etienne or someone can explain Corominas’ comment, what would the Spanish reflex be if the first Latin i remained short?

  106. Etienne says

    Y: In answer to your question, we would expect Latin short /i/ to merge with Latin long /e/, yielding Proto-Italo-Western Romance */meljo/, with a mid-high vowel in the first syllable, and thence a Spanish form */mexo/, spelled “mejo” I imagine.

  107. ktschwarz says

    what makes food and clothing etymology interesing is how it reflects history of food and clothing

    This! And not just food and clothing, all of material culture and cultural contacts (as marie-lucie has discussed here at various times). Did you know that Ramadan was originally spelled “Ramazan” in English, and that spelling persisted up to the 20th century? That’s because medieval Europeans first heard about it through Persian, where that’s the pronunciation. The spelling with d is closer to the Arabic pronunciation, but there was much less contact with Arabic-speaking countries before the 20th century.

    The Sotho/Afrikaans etymologies for milo must have been written by linguists who knew sorghum came from Africa and looked in dictionaries of African languages for sound-alikes. But they didn’t look up anything about the history of farming in the US. Those dictionaries obscure the cultural history of travelers like Pratt who introduced new plants, governments and schools that tested and promoted them, and newspapers and farming journals that spread new names. And they conflate West Africa, where the slaves were taken from, with South Africa, where Sotho is spoken—thousands of miles apart.

    how sorghum came to Columbia

    With slavery. How the Spanish name maíz millo got attached to it, well, it probably happened among people who were enslaved or subjugated and whose language wasn’t being recorded. Or maybe something *was* recorded, or government records (taxes, land titles) could have evidence—a question for a Colombian historian.

  108. January First-of-May says

    Here millet is the smallest grain available, and corn is the largest. Very dissimilar. But we don’t make flour from either, so maybe it is flour that united them.

    I suspect it might be the porridge that united them; I’ve had кукурузная каша (corn porridge) a few times and I could hardly tell the difference from пшённая каша (millet porridge). My understanding is that corn porridge is made from what in English is called “grits”, but I’m not sure of the specific variant.

    Then there’s мамалыга (mămăligă), a Romanian dish that supposedly used to be made from millet but switched to maize in the 18th century because maize wasn’t taxed by the Ottoman authorities.
    (English Wikipedia provides an extensive list of various African equivalents, including a few from Ghana.)

  109. Yet another doublet:

    Alternative forms
    From Middle English kive, from Old English cȳf (“vat”), ultimately borrowed from Latin cūpa. Related to French cuve. Doublet of coupe and cup.

    keeve (plural keeves)

    1. (brewing) A vat or tub in which the mash is made; a mash tub.
    2. (bleaching) A bleaching vat; a kier.
    3. (mining) A large vat used in dressing ores.

    keeve (third-person singular simple present keeves, present participle keeving, simple past and past participle keeved)

    1. To set in a keeve, or tub, for fermentation.
    2. (Britain, dialect) To heave; to tilt, as a cart.

    Keeving – French and English tradition
    ‘Keeving’ is a way of making the ultimate style of naturally sweet sparkling cider. This is traditional both in Western England and the northwest of France, but whereas it has virtually died out as a commercial proposition in the UK, it is still very much alive for the production of ‘cidre bouché’ in France. The underlying principle is to remove nutrients from the juice by complexation with pectin at an early stage, to ensure a long slow fermentation which finishes and can be bottled while still sweet and without any fear of excessive re-fermentation later.

  110. Respect to the Random House Unabridged Dictionary, which entered milo in the 2nd edition (1987) labeled “of uncert. orig.” That is more correct than every other dictionary, which all printed wrong origins! RH could have just copied everybody else, and they didn’t.

    Yahyaoğlu (May 2, 2021 at 7:16 pm), thanks for the sobering reality check. In a better world, original etymological work done for a dictionary would be published in a journal with full supporting detail, not filed away and then thrown away. I have no idea if publishers want to keep that kind of thing confidential as trade secrets, but even if so, trade secrets shouldn’t be forever.

    Mămăligă was discussed in depth at Words for Porridge in Bantuphone Africa.

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