The Grammarphobia Blog

The vegetable kingdom

Q: I’m writing this from under my bed in a hut on Kilimanjaro, where I’ve been hiding since the first time I heard the word “veggie.” One theory is that this type of baby talk is the verbal equivalent of comfort food, to which people are drawn in times of insecurity. A second theory is that this form renders vegetables less threatening. Here, too, I am at odds, because I like vegetables. What’s your (educated) prediction … will it die out or should I get used to snowy winters?

A: I wouldn’t be at all surprised if the word “veggie” lasts longer than the snows on Mount Kilimanjaro, where scientists say the ice cap is melting.

As it turns out, the word (also spelled “veggy” and “vegie”) isn’t all that new. It’s been around for more than half a century, according to the Oxford English Dictionary.

The earliest published reference in the OED is from a book called Lost Girls (1955), by Caroline Brown: “I did get a job for myself, selling vegies at a stall in the market.”

The first OED citation for the “veggie” spelling is from a 1978 article in the Washington Post about a World Vegetarian Day conference: “Special veggie conference events on Saturday include a ‘space vegetarian’ lunch.”

I even found a 1976 article in the New York Times archive that mentions a vegetarian restaurant in Paris called Veggie. A typical meal, according to the Times, might include soup, vegetables, prunes, and cake.

I’m a vegetable lover too, though my husband (a meat-and-potatoes guy) wonders how a lover of vegetables can bear to kill a poor innocent Brussels sprout.

As for “veggie,” I’m not particularly bothered by the word, no matter how it’s spelled. I fear that you’d better stock up on woolies.

Thanks for the entertaining question.

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