The YIVO Institute for Jewish Research has put online Dr. Mordkhe Schaechter’s Plant Names in Yiddish, which it published in 2005. (Dr. Schaechter died in 2007; I wrote about him here.) You can download it from a link on this page, which says:

Plant Names in Yiddish is a fascinating study not only in botany, but also in the development of the Yiddish language as reflected in botanical vocabulary. For example, Schaechter cites Yiddish terms for willow: sháyne-boym, noted in the writings of Mendele Moykher-Sforim and A. Golomb (from hoysháyne >hesháyne >sháyne – ‘willow twigs used ritually on the holiday of Sukkoth’). He also notes that Yiddish terms for the halakhically appropriate vegetable species for a Passover seder have been documented since at least the 12th century, and that ‘potato’ is regionally known as búlbe, búlve, bílve, kartófl(ye), kartóplye (!), érdepl, ekhpl, ríblekh, barbúlyes, zhémikes, mandebérkes, bánderkes, krumpírn, etc. The Galician town of Sanok, at a crossroads of languages and cultures, boasts five different synonyms for ‘potato’; such examples display the richness of the Yiddish language and its regional diversity.
…The Trilingual Latin-English-Yiddish Taxonomic Dictionary section helps those who may know a word in one language to find it in another. An extensive index (including a geographic index) makes searching easier, and there is a detailed source bibliography. There are many cross-referenced variations of plant words in Yiddish, a useful tool given the diversity in spelling, dialect, and region. A special section on orthographical and morphological variations is also included. The online edition now adds a Yiddish-Latin-English index.

In the words of Z. D. Smith’s post on the book:

As a reference work it’s indispensable. But as a simple joy—as an impossibly rich and dense body to dive into at immediately satisfying random—it is even dearer. At a random page turn I can tell you that the Yiddish name for Artillery Clearweed, Pilea microphylla, is הארמאטניק.. Harmatnik, that is, ‘cannoneer’—I have never heard of Artillery Clearweed but apparently its offensive associations are not unique to English. Sweetflag, the genus Acorus, goes by the name שאװער, or shaver. Its obvious false-friendship with the English verb aside, I am not nearly well enough versed in any of Yiddish’s many substrates to tell you offhand where the name shaver comes from. But I think it’s funny: indeed, far from being some wasteland of natural terminology, where the urban, mercantile Yid is happy to lump all ferns with ferns, trees with trees, birds with birds, and so on, stemming from a general lack of engagement with nature, Yiddish natural terminology is a happy and well-churned melange of influences, Polish, Hebrew, German, Russian, French, Ukrainian and original coinages, where the language’s syncretic, cosmopolitan nature joyously shines through.

Thanks for the link, Ori!


  1. “Hoyshayne” comes, of course, from the Hebrew “hoshanot,” which refers to the prayers accompanying the ceremonial processions around the synagogue (in the Temple, around the altar) on Hoshana Rabbah, the seventh day of Sukkot. Willow branches are beaten on the ground. The text of the hoshanot is some of the most impossible to translate in the liturgy, including a paragraph of Biblical insect names.
    (Forgive any inaccuracy; it’s been a while.)

  2. Badeumhang says

    For potatoes, I knew at least two, Kartoffel and Erdapfel, from German.
    Interesting how the humble potato gets loaded with monickers. Even in English we have “potato”, “spud”, and “murphy”. In Japanese I can think of じゃがいも and 馬鈴薯, and Japanese Wikipedia lists more regional variants. Chinese, of course, has more (Chinese Wikipedia lists five).

  3. I remember a German once told me a local word for potatoes, from the area around Trier: Grompern — he pronounced it slowly, with great relish, and I believe he said it came from Grundbeeren (ground berries). I suppose that the Yiddish krumpírn is the same word.

  4. Dan Milton says

    Grompern (and similar forms) would in modern German be Grundbirne “ground pear” not “ground berry”.

  5. rootlesscosmo says

    I learned “bulbe,” as in an old song:
    Montik bulbes
    Dinshtik bulbes
    Mitvokh un donnershtike bulbes
    Fraytik far a novene a bulbes kigele
    Shabbes vayter bulbes

  6. Bulve comes from Lithuanian I believe (Bulvė is Lithuanian for potato). Some local dialects have it as bulbe or bulba.

  7. And zhemikes might also have something to do with Lithuanian, since žemė (zhemeh) in Lithuanian means the same as Erde in German.

  8. Athel Cornish-Bowden says

    You seem to be suffering a sustained attack by spammers. It would be a pity to have comments moderated, but maybe it’s come to the point where it’s necessary.

  9. These comment spammers are as persistent and vile as the eight species of “locusts” (actual identities unknown) I referred to above.
    I would suggest ReCaptcha — probably cracked by now, but, like the average car alarm, capable of warding off the less professional intruders.
    The real difficulty with putting a humans-only step in the way of commenting is that legions of poor Indians and Bangladeshi are being paid a pittance to solve CAPTCHA problems and advance the serried ranks of spam thereby.

  10. Картопля is a valid regional form in some Slavic dialects.

  11. You seem to be suffering a sustained attack by spammers. It would be a pity to have comments moderated, but maybe it’s come to the point where it’s necessary.
    Eh, I’ve seen worse. One morning I had to delete over a thousand spam comments. It comes with the job. It would have to get a lot worse before I decided to interpose a moderation/captcha system, because I dislike them myself—I like to be able to go to a site, make a comment, and just hit the button and have it appear. I’d probably lose a few impulse commenters, and I don’t want that. (Who wants to have to squeeze around a large glaring bouncer before they can get into a bar?)

  12. Again our toms is something so altogether different from other potato etymologies
    supposedly it’s from tomsog(testis)

  13. Grundbirne also gives Serbian/Croatian krompir and Hungarian krumpli.
    búlbe, búlve, etc. might well come through Lithuanian (or Polish bulwa), but are ultimately from Latin bulbus.
    zem ‘earth’ words include Czech zemče, Slovak zemiak, and Polish ziemniak.
    I know StarLing isn’t 100% reliable, but for Mongolian төмс, Classical Mongolian ᠲᠥᠮᠤᠰᠤᠨ tömüsün, it gives a common edible root root.
    More of the same from a couple years ago here.

  14. Халаад says

    Is тѳмс from тѳмсѳг or the other way around?

  15. if toms is from the classical bulbous, then both toms and tomsog are from bulbous
    i guess

  16. Халаад says

    I have a Mongolian-Japanese dictionary that gives the classical form as tömüsü. Тѳмс is given two meanings: じゃがいも (potato) and 睾丸 (testicle).

  17. it can’t be the other way round coz potatoes are like more recent introduction
    the classical tomusun is bulbous, edible root is derivation i mean description of the bulbs i guess, but not the word itself
    toms is specifically potato, +og gives testis, without the suffix i would think first potato, so they can’t be used interchangeably

  18. じゃがいも is interesting, imo i think is again that, edible root, what is じゃが though

  19. “Harmatnik” is definitely a coinage of the author’s; artillery plant (though it’s in the same genus as clearweed, I’ve never heard it called “artillery clearweed”) is a tropical plant from the New World; why Yiddish would have a word for this plant is beyond me. I have a background in both botany and Yiddish, and I was very excited, and then equally disappointed when this book came out; it’s chock full of American plants that Yiddish certainly didn’t have names for, and for which the author invented names, usually involving clever plays on their English common names. This completely obscures the actual Yiddish botanical vocabulary, which is certainly extensive, more so than most people would guess, but way less so than this book would lead you to believe.

  20. jaga is Jakarta (older 咬𠺕吧 jagatara ); the Japanese got spuds via the Dutch East Indies.

  21. Isn’t there an old joke about a poor lady serving her family taters for breakfast, spuds for lunch and potatoes for tea so that “wouldn’t have to eat potatoes three times a day”?
    Or am I making that up from Danish?

  22. i love the potato joke about Chapaev, always laugh reading it, can’t find it now though

  23. Charles Perry says

    Kartoplia might show a sojourn in a Turkic language. However, some Turkic languages (e.g. Tatar), use an rather odd word: berenge. This turns out to be a mangled form of amerikanka.

  24. i love the potato joke about Chapaev, always laugh reading it
    Yes, that’s a great joke. For the benefit of readers not up on their Chapaev lore, I should explain that it’s a riff on a scene from the movie (as inexhaustible a source of quotes and parodies in Russia as Casablanca and It’s a Wonderful Life are in the U.S.) in which Chapaev explains to Furmanov where the commander of a unit should be located, using as a visual aid a potato representing the Red Army.
    if toms is from the classical bulbous
    No, MMcM was saying that the “bulbe” words, not the Mongolian ones, were from Latin.

  25. berenge. This turns out to be a mangled form of amerikanka.
    That’s a striking development. Do you have a source for the etymology?

  26. MMcM was saying that the “bulbe” words, not the Mongolian ones, were from Latin.
    tömüsün is bulbous in Mongolian, so i said so just directly in English
    should have written the words together to avoid the misunderstanding

  27. Ah, sorry, I misunderstood you.

  28. a local word for potatoes, from the area around Trier: Grompern — he pronounced it slowly, with great relish, and I believe he said it came from Grundbeeren (ground berries).
    The Grimm article on Grundbirne (ground pear) explains some of the complex history of words for the potato in different parts of Germany, from the 16th century. It starts off: “an older form still preserved in dialects: grundbir(-e).
    Today in the Saarland (not a million miles away from Trier to the north) there is still Grumbeere. The spelling suggests (to me anyway) that bir(-e) was understood by somebody as beere (berry). On the evidence of ø’s anecdote, it’s part of folk etymology. “Ground pear” makes good sense for a potato, “ground berry” doesn’t. But I don’t know what Birne (pear) is today in Saarland dialects. Maybe Biere, as in Grumbiere below?
    Standarddeutch    Kartoffeln
    Rheinfränkisch   Grumbeere/Grumbiere
    Moselfränkisch   Grompern/Grumbern/Krumpern
    In a variant of Kölsch spoken between Cologne and Bonn, the words for strawberries and potatoes sound very similar: Erbele and Äppele. When I learned that in the 70s, I thought it strange – but now not at all. You get used to anything, over time. That’s why learning a language is difficult, and even self-defeating after a point, when grammars, etymology etc. are being consulted. You can’t learn when you know.
    Here are some combinations with Ädäppel (Erdapfel = ground apple), from a Kölsch-Hochdeutsch dictionary:
    Ädäppel Kartoffeln
    Ädäppelschlot Kartoffelsalat
    Ädäppelspannekoche Kartoffelpfannkuchen
    Ädäppelszupp Kartoffelsuppe
    äde irden
    äde Döppe irdener Topf
    Appel Äpfel,
    Äppelche, för dr Doosch gern gesehen
    Appelkruck Apfelkraut
    Appelkumpott Apfelmus
    Appeltaat Apfeltorte
    Appeltiff Apfelweib
    Erbel Erdbeeren
    Erbele Erdbeeren
    The expression Äppelche, för dr Doosch (an apple against thirst) is pretty cute, since it is said to mean gern gesehen ([something that is] very welcome).
    And about Apfelweib (apple-wife, like fishwife, i.e. an apple-seller in a market): in a story by Hoffmann that I didn’t know, Der goldene Topf, a door handle turns into a bad-mouthing, mean old apple-lady.

  29. door knob rather than door handle

  30. That’s a great door knob, Grumbly.

  31. I would much rather have to solve a CAPTCHA than deal with reading the dogpile of wonderful comments on one of your postings, get to the bottom, and become frustrated when I can’t add my own contribution because I’m a bit too late and the spammers have attacked that page. What’s more, ReCAPTCHAs actually do some good in the world, in the form of helping to OCR bad spots in scanned text (the New York Times archive, currently).
    And processing a thousand anythings per day is above and beyond the call. I urge you to reconsider your policy.

  32. Hmm. The helping to OCR bad spots in scanned text thing attracts me. Can you link to a site that explains how to go about implementing it (in simple terms suitable for an e-ignoramus like me)?

  33. That’s a striking development.
    Online dictionaries and other sources like Tatar Wiktionary and Bashkir Wikipedia give бәрәңге / bäräñge without any etymology. Are native speakers generally aware of the connection?

  34. The good news is that there’s a ReCAPTCHA plugin for Movable Type. The bad news is that the version of Movable Type that Languagehat runs on is 2.63, which is so ancient (it was released on February 23, 2003, for Ghu’s sake, which is admittedly not as old as LH, but pretty nearly) that the plugin won’t work. But if you’d consider upgrading to MT 4.x, or even 3.x, the social benefits the Hattics will be able to confer on the world will become immense!
    Before you ask, I have no knowledge of how to upgrade, but it’s not beyond hope that another among us does know.

  35. David Marjanović says

    Grundbirne also gives Serbian/Croatian krompir and Hungarian krumpli.

    And Slovenian krumpir, reportedly, as the missing link. Grundbirn is used in Styrian.

    Montik bulbes

    Oh horror. The poverty really comes through.
    For comparison, here’s an Upper Austrian version (written down as Standard German for everyone’s convenience – if you’re interested in the original pronunciation, tell me):
    Montag Knödeltag
    Dienstag Nudeltag
    Mittwoch Strudeltag
    Donnerstag Fleischtag (!)
    Freitag Fasttag
    Samstag Zahltag
    Sonntag Sauftag
    As Scrooge McDuck wrote on a wall in the money bin: “Money isn’t everything! But without money everything is nothing!”

  36. if you’re interested in the original pronunciation, tell me
    I’m very interested.

  37. David Marjanović says

    Really? Well:
    Dialect-only features:
    – Every a is… well… IPA-wise I have to resort to [ɒ̈]. It’s the central open rounded vowel. The same thing as the French an sound, except that it’s oral rather than nasal. (The nasal version also exists in the same dialect, but doesn’t occur in this example.)
    – The very similar-sounding Standard /ɔ/ gets out of the way by merging into /oː/. So, every o is [o].
    – Vowel length isn’t phonemic, so it suddenly shows that the e in Dienstag isn’t etymological: it has the same /i/ as Mittwoch. Phonetically, it’s somewhere between [i] (as found in French) and [ɪ] (as found in English), probably closer to the former, but not quite there.
    – L-vocalisation: /a(ː)l/ manifests as the diphthong [ɒ̈i̯].
    – The ö, Standard [øː], is [ɛ].
    Features shared with Austrian Standard German, but not with the Standard accents of much of Germany, for example:
    ei is almost [ɛi̯], not [ai̯].
    au starts with the central vowel (IPA: confusingly [ä]), not the front one ([a]).
    – Doubly-written consonants are a bit longer than singly-written ones. Not outright long as in Italian or Finnish, but still noticeable enough that it’s phonemic in the dialect (replacing vowel length).
    b, d, g are voiceless, but stay distinct from p, t, k, even though those are not aspirated, and even though (unlike in Swiss German) there’s no length difference either. This has been called a fortis-lenis contrast. The fortes (/p t k/) have a louder release. Some phoneticians have flatly denied the existence of such a contrast, but none ever seems to have worked on any Bavarian-Austrian dialect… 😐 really, I spent half a day googling once and found nothing.
    – For /b/ vs /p/ and /g/ vs /k/, this difference stays intact at the ends of words. (And /t/ merges into /d/ rather than the other way around. Except for the exceptions, where they stay distinct; these have to do with grammar and are governed by a complex rule which I once found, wrote down on some blog, and then forgot. But I digress.) All plosives are already voiceless, so word-final devoicing doesn’t exist.
    – There is no [z]. At the beginnings of words there’s just [s]; elsewhere, there’s a slight length contrast as described above, where the short /s/ can become a voiceless lenis ([z̥]), but never a voiced one.
    Does that help?

  38. David Marjanović says

    IPA: confusingly [ä]

    Or alternatively [ɑ̈]. The problem is that there are no IPA symbols for the open central vowels and that [¨] means “centralised”, not (or at least not necessarily) “central”.

  39. David Marjanović says

    And of course /d t n l/ are laminal, not apical as in English and in hardcore northern German.
    And of course r is [ʀ]… well, for my grandparents’ generation, the Italian-style laminal [r] is also an option. Anyway, fully voiced unlike in Parisian French.

  40. Is the l in Knödeltag, Nudeltag, Strudeltag also vocalized?

  41. David Marjanović says

    No. It’s syllabic, just like in the standard. That is, the e in front of it is basically a lie, merely indicating “there probably once was some vowel in this position”.

  42. David Marjanović says

    Fun is, morpheme-final syllabic /l/ does get vocalized in many words; it becomes /i/ in Upper Austria, /ɛ/ in Lower Austria and Vienna, and IIRC /e/ in Bavaria – and if the vowel in the preceding syllable is (underlyingly) /ɛ/ or /i/, that vowel gets treated as if it had an (underlying) /l/ directly behind it (that is, it gets rounded). Deeply bizarre.
    Apfel “apple” (sg.), Äpfel (pl.): [ˈɒ̈pˑ͡fɪ̝], [ˈœpˑ͡fɪ̝]
    Semmel* “breadroll”: [ˈsœmˑɪ̝]
    Himmel “sky/heaven”: [ˈhʏmˑɪ̝]
    The alert reader will have noticed that this accounts for Nudel and Strudel, but not for Knödel. I suppose it’s irregular. 😐 Or maybe something is wrong with the rule: off the top of my head, I can’t think of any more examples where it applies, nor of any more counterexamples…
    * AFAIK that’s the only word for “breadroll” in Austria. In Germany, the most widespread one is Brötchen, but in Berlin they say Schrippe, and I think more synonyms exist.

  43. I love that stuff—thanks for the explanation!

  44. The link is stale. The pdf is now here.

  45. David Marjanović says

    L-Umlaut as described in my last comment has long been known to the literature, and of course it has further examples; and Äpfel & Semmel aren’t [ˈœp͡ˑfɪ̝] & [ˈsœmˑɪ̝], but [ˈøp͡ˑfɪ̝] & [ˈsømˑɪ̝]– which is completely regular, because, in the first case, the “primary umlaut” of */a/ isn’t */ɛ/, it’s */e/, and the second is an Early Romance loan that had */e/ to begin with (Classical Latin simile “white flour”). For L-umlaut to yield /œ/, you need to start with */ɛ/ as in Mehl, schnell, elf, gelb.

  46. John Cowan says

    aren’t [ˈœp͡ˑfɪ̝] & [ˈsœmˑɪ̝], but [ˈøp͡ˑfɪ̝] & [ˈsømˑɪ̝]

    Does anyone have a good mnemonic for which of [œ] and [ø] is mid-open or mid-close? In X-SAMPA they are written [9] as in neuf and [2] as in deux, which is a lot clearer.

  47. Lars Mathiesen (he/him/his) says

    I use French /œ/ spelled ‘œ’ and Danish /ø/ spelled ‘ø’. But there might not be many people that works for…

    This gave me occasion to test that in Firefox 110 on WIndows 10, the IPA symbol ‘ɶ’ does render differently from ‘œ’, In the font that Apple calls Helvetica or Helvetica Neue (I don’t remember which) they are identical, which I’ve had occasion to complain about back when I used a Mac.

    (I can also confirm the UTF8-too-much problem in comment editing that Y saw on another thread. I’m sure it didn’t used to do that, so somebody has updated something. It may not be the fault of the comment editing plugin, it’s possible that a global update to WordPress changed the API it uses. If you see ‘ø’ instead of your ‘ø’, just refresh the whole page. [And on this last edit, it didn’t do it. Magic!])

  48. David Marjanović says

    ø looks more like o, which is closed…

    œ is graphically open on a side, now that I think of it – like ɔ. And like ɛ when compared to e.

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