c. 1600, in the classical sense, "cardoon, artichoke," from Latin cactus, from Greek kaktos, name of a type of prickly plant of Sicily (the Spanish artichoke), a "foreign word of unknown origin" [Beekes]. In reference to the green, leafless, spiked American plants from 1769. Linnaeus gave the name to them thinking they were related to the classical plant. Related: Cactal.
"mescal cactus," 1849, in reference to the mescal made from it, from Mexican Spanish peyote, from Nahuatl (Aztecan) peyotl, said to mean "caterpillar;" the cactus so called from the downy button on top.
giant branching columnar species of cactus of the deserts of Arizona and Mexico, 1856, from Mexican Spanish, from a native name of unknown origin, perhaps from Yaqui (Sonoran).
former Aztec city, Nahuatl (Aztecan), literally "place of the nopal rock," from tetl "rock" + nuchtli "nopal," a species of cactus sacred to the sun god.
type of Mexican cactus (which supports the cochineal bug), 1730, from American Spanish, from Nahuatl (Aztecan) nopalli.
cactus genus, 1730, from Latin cereus "waxen, waxy," from cera "wax" (see cero-). So called from its shape, which suggests a wax candle.
1570s, "spiny, full of sharp points, armed with prickles" (originally of holly leaves), from prickle (n.) + -y (2). Figurative sense of "irritable, quick to anger" is recorded by 1862. Prickly heat "inflammatory disorder of the sweat glands" is from 1736, so called for the sensation; prickly pear, of the fruit of a certain cactus, is from 1760 (earlier prickle pear, 1610s). Related: Prickliness.
"plant of the genus Agave," found in deserts of Mexico and southwestern U.S., especially the American aloe, or maguey plant, 1702, from Mexican Spanish, from Nahuatl (Aztecan) mexcalli "fermented drink made from agave," from metl "agave" + ixcalli "stew." Meaning "intoxicating liquor from fermented juice (pulque) of the agave" is attested in English from 1828. Also the name of a small desert cactus (peyote) found in northern Mexico and southern Texas (1885).
Old English þorn "sharp point on a stem or branch," earlier "thorny tree or plant," from Proto-Germanic *thurnīn- (source also of Old Saxon, Old Frisian thorn, Dutch doorn, Old High German dorn, German Dorn, Old Norse þorn, Gothic þaurnus), from PIE *trnus (source also of Old Church Slavonic trunu "thorn," Sanskrit trnam "blade of grass," Greek ternax "stalk of the cactus," Irish trainin "blade of grass"), from *(s)ter-n- "thorny plant," perhaps from root *ster- (1) "stiff."
Figurative sense of "anything which causes pain" is recorded from early 13c. (thorn in the flesh is from II Corinthians xii.7). Also an Anglo-Saxon and Icelandic runic letter (þ), named for the word of which it was the initial (see th).