Ever since I was young, my mother told me not to drink soda because of the artificial sweetener aspartame in it, and to eat my asparagus because it was healthy. Little did I know about the etymological conundrum this put me in. Turns out that aspartame comes from asparatic acid, which is synthethically created from asperagine, which is a compound found naturally in asparagus and similar plants (hence the name). The -ame suffix indicates an amide, and the -ine in asperagine is a multipurpose suffix for chemical compounds. Now onto asparagus! It was borrowed in the second half of the fourteenth century from Latin, where it came from the Ancient Greek word asparagos, still describing the plant. This, however, is of uncertain origin, but might be from Proto-Indo-European sperg, meaning "to spring up". Usage of both the words asparagus and aspartame has been on the rise since the 1960s.
Adam Aleksic is a 220-month-old, 2800-ounce high school senior with disturbing interests in etymology, vexillology, geography, board games, limericks, and law. Adam will be studying linguistics at Harvard University in the fall.
The Etymology Nerd