U.S. A species of squash having a scalloped edge. [Alteration of SIMNEL.] 1785 T. JEFFERSON Notes Virginia vi. 68 Cymlings. Cucurbita verrucosa. 1981 Farmstead Mag. Winter 41/1 Common pumpkins are actually a form of the same plant from which has also been developed vegetable marrows, cymlings, or cymlins (also spelled simlins), summer crookneck squashes, and yellow-flowered gourds.

Thus the OED (I’ve selected two of their many quotations); my native dictionaries, Merriam-Webster and the American Heritage, let me down in the matter of this native-born word, which I ran across in the following Lorine Niedecker poem (part of her “Thomas Jefferson” series, presumably based on his writings):

Hamilton and the bankers
would make my country Carthage

I am abandoning the rich—
their dinner parties—

I shall eat my simlins
with the class of science

or not at all
Next year the last of labors

among conflicting parties
Then my family

we shall sow our cabbages


  1. One of my white relative(Henry County, Kentucky)(I’m Senaca more or less), used to refer to “simlin” for yellow neck squash, it wasn’t until years latter that I discover the spelling for the word that I think he was looking for, “cymbling”. Of course being Kentucky it was not unusual that the “g” was dropped. I suspect your dictionary might have the other spellings.

  2. Hi, Teel! Now that I’ve googled a bit, I see that “cymling” and “cymbling” are both used (as in the 1913 Webster’s Unabridged entry). The OED lists them as variants under “simlin” (“Also 8 cimbeline, cymblin, 8- cymling, 9 cymbling, simblin; cymlin”). I guess it’s a rare enough word that its spelling never got firmly established.

  3. ktschwarz says

    Native-born word? The squash is native, but the word came from England with the colonists, who named the squash after the simnel (a bun or cake) because of its shape. And simnel is from the same root as semolina, with an extensive Old World etymology discussed at Language Hat under Solet and Kemach.

    If you’d known to look for the “cymling” spelling, you’d have found it in Merriam-Webster’s Collegiate (not just the unabridged), as well as several other American dictionaries. How did it get that pseudo-Greek spelling? I think it must have been by confusion with “cymbal”, which people would have seen in the Bible—and the “-ing” ending is probably a hypercorrection. There’s still another spelling in the journals of Lewis and Clark, which have several references to Native Americans who “raise great quantities of Corn Beens Simmins &c. also Tobacco”.

    These American dictionaries all define it as the scalloped or pattypan squash, missing the broader usage for other summer squash attested by Teel, as well as another commenter from Kentucky at Separated by a common language.

    The OED revised simlin in September 2019, with much expanded coverage of the obsolete regional English uses of simlin for a bun or cake, plus an excellent US derivative, “simlin-headed” (=pumpkin-headed). They also sort of recognized the broader use by defining it as “U.S. regional. Any of several squashes; now spec. the pattypan squash.” But they dropped the Thomas Jefferson citation; I wonder why? As a pure guess, maybe they prioritize citations that use the word in a sentence, or are descriptive, over citations that are just entries in a list.

  4. Thanks very much — clarification after eighteen years!

  5. John Cowan says

    “raise great quantities of Corn Beens Simmins &c. also Tobacco”

    Are you sure that is simlins? I immediately read it as an aphetic form of persimmons, the fruit of the tree Diospyros virginiana (and other Diospyros species elsewhere in the world). The name is of Algonquian origin; Englishmen learned it (slightly garbled, as usual) from people of the Powhatan Confederacy.

  6. Stu Clayton says

    Persimmons don’t fit in with corn, beans and tobacco as something you can “raise great quantities of” just like that, or ? Persimmons grow on trees, I think. With the other three you can plant more and get more at short notice, and with squash as well. (Maybe not so much with tobacco, I ain’t no farmer)

  7. ktschwarz says

    Right, the Three Sisters are not corn, beans, and persimmons; and persimmons aren’t grown in the Great Plains. Here’s Clark’s journal entry with annotation. He was the only one to use the word “simmins”; other expedition members wrote about “corn, beans and squashes, which they presented to us”.

    Of course by far the best reference on American vegetable names is DARE, and the entry on “cymbling” in volume A-C is much more extensive than the OED. In 2003 you could get the cross-reference from “simlin” via Google, and now you can also get it at But back in 1985 you would have had to guess the spelling, or search multiple American dictionaries to find the few that listed “simlin” under S, and they’re all cross-references. The OED seems to be alone in choosing “simlin” as the main spelling.

    As for persimmons, the first couple of entries in the OED compare them to the European medlar, probably because they require bletting like a medlar.

  8. As a young Native body in Virginia we ate lots of simmons. Not so much these days.

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