Asparagus comes from Late Old English sparage, from Medieval Latin sparagus, from Latin asparagus, from Gk. asparagos, ασπάραγος, from Persian asparag, meaning “sprout” or “shoot,” from the Proto-Indo-European stem -sphereg- “to scatter.” (In England the word was commonly mispronounced as “sparrowgrass.”)
It’s amazing how sometimes a word remains recognizable across millennia, miles, and culture.
Aspergillum comes from Latin aspergere, [ad-spergere] “to sprinkle on,” from spargere, to scatter [also the root for disperse], from the same Proto-Indo-European stem -sphereg- “to scatter.” So the words do come from a common root. I doubt that anyone has ever grabbed a modern asparagus to sprinkle with, though; rather, an aspergillum was made by bundling whatever “sprouts or shoots” were handy. But look at this wild asparagus:
You could sprinkle a regiment with that fistful. (Kinda looks like wheat…imagine that.)
Then I wondered if the -sphereg- root was also the source for words such as spring and sprinkle, especially considering what an aspergillum is for. Turns out there are two close roots -sphereg-, and -spergh-. They both overlap in a general sense of sprinkling, scattering; and have some shades of meaning unique to each. To me, -spergh- seems to be the better root for asparagus, but my Indo-European reference says otherwise. Considering the alternate pronunciation and spelling of aspharagus which is as old as Greek, the difference may be academic anyway. I suppose both roots come from an earlier common source which would predate Indo-European; but it’s interesting to see that by 10,000 BC, give or take a millennia, that such fine distinctions in sound and meaning were already developing.
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