12 Words Etymologically Related to the Sense of Taste

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We experience the world through our senses, so it makes sense that our language should reflect those senses. This group of words traces back to the basic elements of taste: sour, bitter, sweet, and salty.

1. EAGER

The word eager goes back to the French word aigre, meaning sour. In English, it first took on the sense of sharp, biting, or severe. Then it took on the sense of intense or impatient, which developed into the “ready to go!” sense we know today.

2. VINEGAR

Vinegar also goes back to aigre—vin aigre, or sour wine. That’s what vinegar is, after all.

3. OXYGEN

In the 18th century, when scientists discovered oxygen, they thought of it as the element whose main characteristic was its role in producing acids. The word oxygen was formed from Greek roots to mean “acid generating.” The German word for it—sauerstoff (sour stuff)—was also formed on this idea.

4. ACERBIC

Latin acerbus meant harsh, bitter, or exceptionally sour-tasting. It’s the root of acerbic, which means in a bitter or cutting manner.

5. EXACERBATE

Exacerbate also goes back to acerbus, meaning to “make intensely bitter” or, more generally, to worsen.

6. MYRRH

Myrrh is a bitter-tasting tree resin used in perfume and incense. The word comes from a Semitic root meaning bitter

7. LICORICE

Licorice goes back to ancient Greek glykus, meaning sweet. It’s also the root of glycerine and glucose.

8. DULCIMER

The name of this mellow stringed instrument was formed on Latin dulce melos, or sweet melody.

9. ASSUAGE

When you assuage, you soften or mitigate. It goes back to Latin ad suavis, or “to sweet.” 

10. SALARY

A salary, was originally, in ancient Rome, a salarium—money given to soldiers for the purchase of salt.

11. SAUSAGE

Sausage, a tube of cured meat, goes back to salsus, meaning salted.

12. SALAD

Salad, which can now refer to an unseasoned pile of vegetables, also comes from the idea of “salted.” 

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March 31, 2016 - 4:00pm
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