I like parsley a lot and I use it in all sorts of dishes – chopped into a soup, in an aubergine loaf, in a salad, the list goes on.

And its usefulness is hardly something recent; we have been eating parsley for thousands of years. So I am sure it will come as no surprise that the word itself goes back a long way.

Its story in English starts in the 14th century, where the Old English form petersilie, or sometimes also petrosili, and the Old French form peresil join together to become persely. This word makes its appearance in 1376, when William Langland writes it in his work Piers Plowman.

Both the Old English and the Old French forms were derived from the same Medieval Latin source petrosilium, which itself came from earlier Latin petroselinum. This latter is simply the Latinised form of the Greek word πετροσέλινον (petroselinon), which literally means “rock-celery”, combined as it is from the two words πέτρα (petra), which means “rock”, and σέλινον (selinon), which means “celery”. The ultimate source of σέλινον is not known, but it is thought that it might be a loan-word from a pre-Hellenic era language now lost to us. Interestingly, the word “cumin” is thought to have come from the same unknown source.

Contrary to what has been suggested by a few people, there is nothing to link it to the word σελήνη (selini), which means “moon”. In Modern Greek, the two words do indeed sound very similar, but it is not thought that this was the case in ancient Greek, as evidenced by the use of different letters to represent the  vowel sounds, ι (iota) in selinon, and η (eta) in selini.

The earliest known form of the word selinon is in fact in a different script. It was written in Mycenae Greek in Linear B syllabic script as se-ri-no.

Words in a number of other languages also come from this same source, such as Modern French persil, German Petersilie, Spanish perejil, Slovenian peteršilj, Swedish persilja, and even Hungarian petrezselyem.

Interestingly, however, while other languages continue to use the Greek word, in modern Greek, the word used is μαϊντανός (maidanos), which is a reverse-loan word, from Turkish maydanoz, which developed from the earlier form mağdanos, itself from earlier Greek μακεδονήσι (makedonisi), and ultimately from Μακεδών (Makedon), or “Macedonian”. Greek speakers can read more about it here.


4 thoughts on “Parsley

  1. Also Italian prezzemolo derives from the Greek word via Latin petroselīnum. Parlsey is so ubiquitous in Italian cooking that we compare any person that appears to be everywhere to it, essere come il prezzemolo and would-be starlets that always try to be in the limelight are called prezzemoline.

  2. There does seem to be a linguistic division between words for “parsley” derived from petroselinum in most European countries and words derived from maydanoz via Arabic from Ancient Greek μακεδονήσι (makedonēsi, “Macedonian”) clustered around Greece, Turkey and the Balkan region.

    Albanian: majdanoz
    Arabic: مقدونس (máqdūnis),
    Armenian: մաղադանոս (maładanos)
    Bulgarian: магданоз (magdanóz)
    Greek: μαϊντανός (maïntanós)
    Macedonian: магдонос, магданос, макидан (magdonos, magdanos, makedan)
    Turkish: maydanoz

    And there are some exceptions, for example: Catalan has “julivert”, Valencian dialect: “jolivèrt”; Western Frisian: “sopgriente” and Portuguese: “salsa”

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