Etymology
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thorny (adj.)

Old English þornig; see thorn + -y (2). Figurative sense is attested from mid-14c. Related: Thorniness. Similar formation in Dutch doornig, German dornig. The figurative image is widespread; Greek had akanthologos as a nickname for a quibbler, literally "thorn-gathering," and akanthobates, nickname for a grammarian (fem. akanthobatis).

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pyracanth (n.)

thorny evergreen shrub of the apple family, found in the south of Europe, bearing white flowers and scarlet berries, 1660s, from Modern Latin genus name Pyracantha, from Greek pyrakantha (Dioscorides), a plant named but not described, from pyr "fire" (from PIE root *paewr- "fire") + akantha, akanthos "thorn, thorny plant" (from PIE root *ak- "be sharp, rise (out) to a point, pierce").

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brier (n.1)

"thorny shrub, heath," 1540s, a variant of Middle English brere, from Old English brer (Anglian), brær (West Saxon) "brier, bramble, prickly bush," which is of unknown origin. Briar is the most recent variant (c. 1600). Originally used of prickly, thorny bushes in general, now mostly restricted to wild rose bushes (sweet briar). Used figuratively (in plural) for "troubles" from c. 1500. French bruyère "heath plant" (source of brier (n.2)) is considered to be unrelated.

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henna (n.)

c. 1600, "dye or cosmetic from the henna plant," from Arabic hinna, name for the small thorny tree (Egyptian Privet), the leaves of which are used to make the reddish dye for the body or hair; said to be of Persian origin, from Arabic. Related: Hennaed (1860).

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thorn (n.)

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).

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aculeate (adj.)

c. 1600, figurative, "pointed, stinging," of writing, from Latin aculeatus "having a sting; thorny, prickly," also figurative, from aculeus "a sting, prickle," diminutive of acus "a needle" (from PIE root *ak- "be sharp, rise (out) to a point, pierce"). From 1660s in a literal sense, in zoology, "furnished with a sting;" by 1870 in botany.

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sarsaparilla (n.)

tropical American plant, also its root used as a medicinal preparation, 1570s, from Spanish zarzaparrilla, from zarza "bramble" (from Arabic sharas "thorny plant" or Basque sartzia "bramble") + parrilla, diminutive of parra "vine," which is of unknown origin.

In 16c.-17c. the dried roots were held to be efficient in treatment of syphilis. From mid-19c. applied to a sweet soft drink made with the root extract (originally with suggestion of medicinal benefit).

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broom (n.)

Old English brom, popular name for several types of shrubs common throughout Europe (used medicinally and for fuel) and characterized by long, slender branches and many yellow flowers, from Proto-Germanic *bræmaz "thorny bush" (source also of Dutch braam, German Brombeere "blackberry"), from PIE *bh(e)rem- "to project; a point."

As "twigs of broom tied together to a handle to make a tool for sweeping," mid-14c. Traditionally, both the flowers and sweeping with broom twigs were considered unlucky in May (Suffolk, Sussex, Wiltshire, etc.).

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acacia (n.)
Origin and meaning of acacia

1540s, type of shrub or tree fund in warm climates of Africa and Australia, from Latin acacia, from Greek akakia "thorny Egyptian tree," a word of uncertain origin. Perhaps it is related to Greek akē "point, thorn" (from PIE root *ak- "be sharp, rise (out) to a point, pierce"), or perhaps it is a Hellenization of some Egyptian word. Beekes suggests it is probably a word from a pre-Greek Mediterranean language and finds "no reason for an Oriental origin." Greek kaktos also has been compared. From late 14c. in English as the name of a type of gum used as an astringent, etc. Extended 17c. to North American trees.

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gooseberry (n.)

type of thorny shrub with hairy fruit, cultivated in northern Europe, 1530s, with berry, but the first part is of uncertain origin; no part of the plant seems to suggest a goose. Watkins points to Old French grosele "gooseberry," which is from Germanic. Or perhaps from German Krausebeere or Kräuselbeere, related to Middle Dutch croesel "gooseberry," and to German kraus "crispy, curly" [Klein, etc.]. By either path it could be related to the Germanic group of words in kr-/cr- and meaning "to bend, curl; bent, crooked; rounded mass." Under this theory, gooseberry would be folk etymology. But OED editors find no reason to prefer this to a literal reading, because "the grounds on which plants and fruits have received names associating them with animals are so commonly inexplicable, that the want of appropriateness in the meaning affords no sufficient ground for assuming that the word is an etymological corruption."

As slang for a fool, 1719, perhaps an extended form of goose (n.) in this sense, or a play on gooseberry fool in the cookery sense. Gooseberry also meant "a chaperon" (1837) and "a marvelous tale." Old Gooseberry for "the Devil" is recorded from 1796. In euphemistic explanations of reproduction to children, babies sometimes were said to be found under a gooseberry bush.

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