The Grammarphobia Blog

Does Wimpy need a spell-checker?

Note: The following question is from Florenz Eisman, whose husband, Hy, writes and draws the Popeye comic strip.

Q: Our dictionary says “Brussels sprout” is the correct spelling for this often disliked veggie, but we feel otherwise. Is it ever spelled “brussel sprouts”? This is for a gag where Hy is putting the words into Wimpy’s mouth. (Since Wimpy has 33 college degrees, the spelling must be correct.)

A: It’s properly called “Brussels sprouts.” The first word is capitalized because the vegetable is named after the city of Brussels, Belgium, and the second word is usually plural because we seldom eat only one sprout!

Here’s the definition from the Oxford English Dictionary: “Brussels sprout (almost always pl.), the bud-bearing Cabbage (Brassica oleracea gemmifera), a variety producing buds like small cabbages in the axils of its leaves.”

The OED gives these published citations:

1796, from Charles Marshall’s A Plain and Easy Introduction to the Knowledge and Practice of Gardening: “Brussels sprouts are winter greens growing much like boorcole.” [If you don't have the OED handy, "boorcole" is better known these days as kale; the word probably comes from a Dutch term for peasant's cabbage.]

1861, from Eugene S. Delamer’s The Kitchen Garden: “And from the bud at the root of the foot-stalk of each, will appear a miniature cabbage, which is the Brussels sprout.”

“Sprouts,” according to the OED, are “young or tender shoots or side-growths of various vegetables, esp. of the cabbage-kind.”

But Wimpy, with his 33 college degrees, knows this stuff already, I’m sure!

PS: A few years back, Hy and Florenz corrected me after I misled listeners on WNYC about the origin of the word “jeep.” They should know, since the word comes from the Popeye comic strip. I had a chance to tell the real story on the blog in 2007 when a reader asked about it.

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