soft and usually warm mass of meal, etc., and herbs, applied to sores or inflammations on the body," a 17c. alteration of Middle English pultes (late 14c.), from Medieval Latin pultes, ultimately from Latin pultes, plural of puls "porridge" (see pulse (n.2)). The modern form in English predominated from mid-18c.
1760 as a botanical term for the fine, yellowish dust that is the fertilizing element of flowers (from Linnæus, 1751), earlier "fine flour" (1520s), from Latin pollen "mill dust; fine flour," which is related to polenta "peeled barley," and probably to Greek poltos "pap, porridge," and Sanskrit pálalam "ground seeds," but the ultimate origin is uncertain.
Old English polente, "a kind of barley meal," from Latin pollenta, polenta, literally "peeled barley," related to pollen "powder, fine flour" (see pollen), but the ultimate origin is uncertain. English later reborrowed it 19c. from Italian polenta (from the Latin word) for "porridge made of corn (maize)," a principal food in northern Italy, originally made from chestnut meal.
"soft food for infants, gruel, porridge," late 14c., from Old French pape "watered gruel" and Medieval Latin papo, both from Latin pappa, a widespread word in children's language for "food" (compare Middle High German and Dutch pap, German Pappe, Spanish, Portuguese papa, Italian pappa), imitative of an infant's noise when hungry; possibly associated with pap (n.2). Meaning "over-simplified idea" first recorded 1540s.
a generic name for Italian dough-based foods such as spaghetti, macaroni, etc., 1874, but not common in English until after World War II, from Italian pasta, from Late Latin pasta "dough, pastry cake, paste," from Greek pasta "barley porridge," probably originally "a salted mess of food," from neuter plural of pastos (adj.) "sprinkled, salted," from passein "to sprinkle," from PIE root *kwet- "to shake" (see quash).
Old English bean "bean, pea, legume," from Proto-Germanic *bauno (source also of Old Norse baun, Middle Dutch bone, Dutch boon, Old High German bona, German Bohne), and related to Latin faba "bean;" Greek phakos "lentil;" Albanian bathë "horse-bean;" Old Prussian babo, Russian bob "bean," but the original form is obscure. Watkins suggests a PIE reduplicated root *bha-bhā- "broad bean;" de Vaan writes that the Italic, Slavic and Germanic "are probably independent loanwords from a European substratum word of the form *bab- (or similar) 'bean'."
As a metaphor for "something of small value" it is attested from c. 1300 (hill of beans as something not much to amount to is from 1863). Meaning "head" is U.S. baseball slang 1905 (in bean-ball "a pitch thrown at the head"); thus slang verb bean meaning "to hit on the head," attested from 1910. Bean-shooter as a child's weapon for mischief, a sort of small sling-shot to fire beans, is attested from 1876. Slang bean-counter "accountant" recorded by 1971.
The notion of lucky or magic beans in English folklore is from the exotic beans or large seeds, carried from the Caribbean or South America by the Gulf Stream, that wash up occasionally in Cornwall and western Scotland. They were cherished, believed to ward off the evil eye and aid in childbirth.
To not know beans "be ignorant" is attested by 1842 in American English, often said to be a New England phrase; it is perhaps from the "object of little worth" sense. Some of the earliest citations give it in a fuller form, but they do not agree: "why, I sometimes think they don't know beans when the bag is open" ["The History of the Saints," 1842]; "This feller don't know beans from porridge, no how." ["Etchings of a Whaling Cruise," 1850]. It might have a connection to the English colloquial expression know how many beans make five (1824) "be a clever fellow."