Potymology: potato etymology

contrived by IPH now and then. The potato is a root vegetable whereas etymology is the study of the origins — including the roots — of words. These are the first two stories after the manner of the Uxbridge English Dictionary.

Health warning: any attempt to believe anything on this page could lead to credulity overdose, which can cause permanent mental health damage; this warning is given notwithstanding the not inconsiderable number of genuine facts that may be encountered at random in any of the stories.

A car is that vehicle known formally in some cultures as an automobile. The first cars were the toys of engineers and inventors, and had hard floors of wood or metal, but when they caught on, went into production, and so were bought by the rich, these people wanted comfort. The gentry were used to having, at home, warmth and comfort, typified by the pet dog lying all evening in front of the fire and tolerant of its master gently resting stockinged feet on it. An early non-engineer and rich prospective car owner ordered a car, and also gave orders that it was to be fitted with something warm and fluffy on which to rest the feet, for comfort; obviously, this had to lie flat on the floor so that it did not get in the way of the accelerator and brake pedals, so it should be somewhat like a furry family pet but flat, and specially designed to be permanently fitted to the floor of a car.
Hence car-pet.
Note: before this, such things in houses were universally referred to as rugs, as in hearth rug, bathroom rug, etc.
The potato was introduced from America, a continent named after Italian explorer Amerigo Vespucci (1454–1512). His family were in Florence, but they had vegetable allotments to the north of Italy right on the banks of the Po river, a perfect place to grow carrots; and it was along that great river (from where it was easy to fetch or divert water for vegetable growing) that he judged it best to grow the first European examples of this as-yet-unnamed root vegetable. So the first imported samples were planted there, by the Po, and watered with the supply from the river.

Now, during his New World explorations Vespucci had also come across the armadillo — that small mammal from the Americas (so named of course later, by the Spaniards, the name meaning "little armour-plated thing"), in the form of just one of the many species of various genera of the kind. The explorers had learnt that the name for armadillos in the native language Tupí is tatou; this is now the French word for the animal, and that also an English word, rarely used but in Chambers dictionary. An added circumstance was that Vespucci’s neighbours, when he got back home, were fascinated by his finds, and thought that the larger potatoes looked so similar to the baby armadillos (when they curled up into a ball so their noses and feet were hidden), and vice versa, that they referred to the root vegetable as the “Po tatou”, meaning the armadillo from the banks of the river Po. And thereby hangs the word for the vegetable.
Dunrobin Castle
This ersatz baronial pile in Sutherland, Scotland, was designed in 1845 by Sir Charles Barry, as a Scots Baronial-style home. It was named in the crass lower-middle class “Dunroamin” house-dubbing style (see Note 1) because the owner at the time, some ignorant nouveau-riche tradesman who had been given a peerage for massive donations to the right politicians, was fed up with commuting to London to sit in the House of Lords and had decided never to trek down there or put on the legendary ermine robes (actually worn only for investitures and the state opening by the monarch) ever again.
  1. There is an essay on house name patterns at a customized house sign web order company site www.yoursigns.com which says, some way down the page, indeed in the penultimate paragraph: “Dunroamin or Dun-something are still quite popular house names ordered with us ...”
    See also the Icons of England page on the topic, and Telegraph article on the topic mentioning the aforementioned and also names such as Kantafordyt, Stoneybrooke (on a home where the owner’mother had crossed out one of the Os), and, for a basement flat in London, Wuthering Depths.