plant cultivated for its edible shoots, late 14c., aspergy; earlier sparage (late Old English), from Latin asparagus (in Medieval Latin often in the form sparagus), from Greek asparagos/aspharagos, which is of uncertain origin; perhaps with euphonic a- + PIE root *sp(h)er(e)g- "to spring up," but Beekes suggests "it is rather a substrate word," based in part on the p/ph variation.
In Middle English, asperages sometimes was regarded as a plural, with false singular aspergy. By 16c. the word had been Englished as far as sperach, sperage. The classical Latin form of the word is attested in English from mid-16c., but was limited at first to herbalists and botanists; the common form from 17c.-19c. was the folk-etymologized variant sparrowgrass, during which time asparagus had "an air of stiffness and pedantry" [John Walker, "Critical Pronouncing Dictionary," 1791]. Known in Old English as eorðnafela. Related: Asparaginous.
updated on September 26, 2022