aloe (n.)

name of a group of shrubs or herbs with spiky flowers and thick leaves, yielding bitter juice which was used as a purgative drug, late 14c., originally in reference to the drug, from Latin aloe, from Greek aloe, which is of uncertain origin, probably a loan-word from an Oriental language.

A secondary sense is older in English: "Fragrant resin or heartwood of an East Indian tree" (Old English alewe, aloe), which is from misuse of Latin/Greek aloe in Biblical translations for Hebrew akhalim (plural), which ultimately is perhaps from a Dravidian language. OED says the Greek word probably was chosen for sound-resemblance to the Hebrew one.

The word was then misapplied in 1680s to the American agave plant, which is similar but unrelated. The "true aloe" (producing the drug) consequently is called aloe vera (with Latin vera "true;" see very). Related: Aloetic.

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