The earliest English attestation of the word sardine with the modern definition is from a 1430s cookbook, where it was spelled sardeyn. Other spellings around that time included sardyn, sardane, sardin, sardino, sirdena, and sardina, with the modern form only becoming widely accepted in the late eighteenth century. Through French and Italian, the word comes from Latin sardina and Ancient Greek sardinos. Beyond that, the origin is disputed, but it seems likely that sardinos was named after the Mediterranean island of Sardinia, from whence the fish was exported. Finally, that name seems to have been around for a very long time: the earliest reference to it is a Phoenecian inscription from the 9th century BCE, where it was referred to as Shardan. The expression "packed like sardines" emerged in 1911.
Hello! I'm Adam Aleksic, a senior studying government and linguistics at Harvard University, where I co-founded the Harvard Undergraduate Linguistics Society. In addition to etymology, I also really enjoy trivia, politics, vexillology, geography, board games, conlanging, art history, and law.