Where would you guess tulip came from? A reasonable guess might be Dutch; after all, the flower is a general symbol for the Netherlands. Or maybe it comes from France, since it sounds almost like a French word. Well, that would be half right but in fact the word ultimately comes from Persian via Turkish from the word dulband, meaning ‘turban’, supposedly because of the resemblance of the flower to a turban.

The tulip was introduced to Europe from Turkey in the 1550s with the first known instances of its cultivation in the garden of Johann Heinrich Herwart in Ausburg. The full Turkish form survives in Spanish tulipan and Italian tulipano but the –an­ ending was generally dropped in Germanic languages, supposedly because it was mistaken for a suffix.

The word also gave us derivatives such as tulipomaniac, one who is obsessed with the flower.

1842  “The prices of these roots..are enough..to delight the cupidity of a Dutch tulipo-maniac.” (OED)


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