Pastinaca sativa


Herewith another valuable vegetable that is perennially ignored—the more so in our time, when a snappy moniker and flashy looks may get higher scores than usefulness and fine flavor. The name sounds goofy, but no sillier than pumpkin or zucchini, which are both taken seriously. (Parsnip’s first syllable comes from Old French pasnaie, meaning parsnip; “nip” derives from “neep”—turnip.)

Seeking a more dignified appellation, I explored the etymology of “parsnip.” My first discovery was its probable derivation from Latin pastinaca, “a two-pronged dibble” (a tool that makes holes in the soil), but dibble does nothing at all to enhance dignity. From the Latin pastinaca comes the Russian word for parsnip, pasternak, a more serious name. But it seems unlikely that we would adopt the name of a celebrated Russian author to help out a root vegetable.