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Esculent

Pronounced /ˈɛskjʊlənt/Help with pronunciation

We have fallen out of love with this word, perhaps because its synonym edible has supplanted it. You can find examples widely distributed in older literature, since it has been in English since the seventeenth century.

This is from the Milwaukee Advertiser of May 1838: “The common or garden asparagus, is one of the luscious esculent vegetables, with which tables can be furnished during the spring and early part of the summer.” We might well expect to find it in Mrs Beeton’s Book of Household Management of 1861. She does not disappoint us: “Among esculent vegetables, the Lettuce, Salsify, Scorzonera, Cardoon, and Artichoke belong to the family.” It’s also in the Journals of Lewis and Clark, in which Meriwether Lewis notes on 30 April 1806: “Many of those plants produce those esculent roots which form a principal part of the subsistence of the natives.”

You can also turn it into a noun for something edible. This is from a publication of 1921 by the English seedsmen Sutton and Sons: “Although the Cardoon is not widely cultivated in this country, it is found in some of our best gardens, and is undoubtedly a wholesome esculent from which a skilful cook will present an excellent dish”.

The word comes from Latin esculentus, from esca, food, which derives from edere, to eat. Related words from Latin include comestible, edacious, edible, esurience, and obese.

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Copyright © Michael Quinion, 1996–. All rights reserved.
Page created 19 Nov. 2005

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The English language is forever changing. New words appear; old ones fall out of use or alter their meanings. World Wide Words tries to record at least a part of this shifting wordscape by featuring new words, word histories, words in the news, and the curiosities of native English speech.

World Wide Words is copyright © Michael Quinion, 1996–. All rights reserved.
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Last modified: 19 November 2005.