IUBio GIL .. BIOSCI/Bionet News .. Biosequences .. Software .. FTP

One more on "Ear" of corn etymology

William F. Tracy wftracy at facstaff.wisc.edu
Fri May 17 10:19:39 EST 2002

Following is my response to the fifth graders and all others interested in
the origin (word) of the maize ear


The origins of words can be a lot of fun and teach us a lot about human
history and language development. Have the students check out the etymology
(word history) of ear in Merriam Webster's Collegiate Dictionary (tenth
edition). Hint: the origin of the word for human ears is different from
that of corn ears.

If it still doesn't make sense email me.

Have fun!

Bill Tracy

At 03:48 PM 5/17/2002 +0100, you wrote:
>That was a good answer, Leszek, but I think the question was "Why is the
>word 'ear' used for this type of inflorescence?"  (as opposed to eye or
>nose or throat, for example).  I confess I do not know the answer to that
>question but I do know why the word "corn" is applied to the kernels.
>"Corn" used to be descriptive of size (and probably of shape too);
>anything the size of a grain of wheat was corn-sized, which is why
>wheat is also called "corn" (in the UK).  I deduce that the Indian maize
>being described as "corn" by the early Europeans was a tad smaller in
>the kernel than modern maize.  Anyway, this older meaning of the word
>"corn" can still be seen in e.g. the name "corned beef";  "corn" here
>describes the size of the salt crystals used in the curing -- neither
>maize nor wheat have anything to do with it!

William F. Tracy
Department of Agronomy
College of Agricultural and Life Sciences
University of Wisconsin-Madison
457 Moore Hall
1575 Linden Dr.
Madison, WI 53706
(608) 262-2587
FAX (608) 262-5217

And pray what more can a reasonable man desire, in peaceful times, in
ordinary noons, than a sufficient number of ears of green sweet corn
boiled, with the addition of salt.
			Henry David Thoreau,  Walden

More information about the Maize mailing list

Send comments to us at archive@iubioarchive.bio.net