or, stuff that I dragged out of my head

Location: Moncton, New Brunswick, Canada

Friday, December 15, 2006

Tuber Lessons

I was reading an amusing blog called Mondo Fruitcake (because I am one of those apparently few people who thinks fruitcake is delicious) and ran across a reference to turnips as tubers. (This reference exists because some fruitcake manufacturers, in the interests of economy, replace citron with dyed, flavoured turnip, or, for all I know, rutabaga, which is often mistaken for the turnip in North America.)

Are turnips tubers? I knew that potatoes and sweet potatoes reproduce themselves by budding (that's what the eyes are for), which makes them tubers, but I didn't know whether or not that was true of turnips as well. It seems to be that it is (and also rutabagas), so there's another blow struck for accuracy in blogland.

A tuber is a big lump of vegetable flesh, usually in the form of a swollen root, and its name comes from Latin "tuber", "lump". Pretty obvious, that.

"Tuber" of course made me think first of "tuberculosis" and then of "tuberose", and both of these words are very interesting. "Tuberose", which I have always pronounced "too-ber-oze" but which many people apparently pronounce as if it were the words "tube rose", has nothing to do with roses, though the tuberose is a headily scented flower. It's "tuber-" plus the suffix "-ose", "having the characteristics of", as in "grandiose" or "otiose". Its name comes from its bulbous root system.

"Tuberculosis" comes from "tubercle" plus "-osis", "condition". A tubercle is, not unexpectedly, a small lump ("-cle" is one of numerous Latinate diminutives, as in "caruncle"), and tuberculosis is a lung condition characterized by, yes, tubercles in the lungs (among other places).

Doesn't "tuber" sound like "tumor" if you're saying it with a head cold? That's just, I hope, a coincidence, but the two words are in fact related, both arising from Latin "tumere", "to swell", which also gave us "tumescent" and "thumb" (a swollen finger, as it were)--and "thumb" gave us "thimble".


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