Corn, Maize, Etymology and Defintions

There has been some confusion surrounding my post around Maize, which is understandable because I believe it is poorly written. I feel that I should clarify some definitions.

Corn: Corn is a general term, indicating a kernel within any grain grown from a grass. The etymology of Corn is as follows:

“grain,” Old English corn, from Proto-Germanic *kurnam “small seed,” from Proto-Indo-European base *ger- “wear away” (Old Slavic – zruno “grain,” Sanskrit jr- “to wear down,” Latin – granum). The sense of the Old English word was “grain with the seed still in” rather than a particular plant. Locally understood to denote the leading crop of a district. Restricted to corn on the cob in America (originally Indian corn, but the adjective was dropped), usually wheat in England, oats in Scotland and Ireland, while korn means “rye” in parts of Germany.

What this means is that the American word for Corn is derived from “Corn on the Cob”, which initially meant “Grain still on the Cob”. Thus when the corn was seperated from the cob, it was simply called corn, which is a bit of a generalization.

Look at it this way…All Maize is corn, but not all corn is Maize. Corn can also inlcude kernals of wheat, rye, barley or oats.

Or look at it another way…The phrase “Kernel of Corn” is redundant. Clear as mud, right?

Now, to make matters more confusing, I have to admit that the term Maize is not a Native American term, but rather Tahino. When Columbus’ expedition made landfall in 1492 they reached some island in the northern Antilles, near today’s San Salvador. The island was populated by Tahino people, in whose language the name for their staple crop of this yellow grain was caled “mahis.” The Spanish spread the Taino name for the plant wherever they distributed the crop throughout the world. That word has been transmutated phonetically into today’s “maize” in English, “maïs” in French, and “maíz” in Spanish.

Then, to top it all off, When Linnaeus (the Swedish botanist who developed today’s binomial plant classification system) devised a name for maize, he used a combination of the Taino name, and its translation into Greek in order to come up with the genus and species of the plant: Zea mays.

Oooo…I think I just sprained my cerebral cortex.


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