Agricultural metaphors in English
Planting season has me thinking
Spring has arrived in the Pacific Northwest. I recently expanded our garden to have room for the plants I want to grow. Marigolds, arugula, spinach, mustard greens, sweet peas, and peas are already in the ground. Indoors, I am coddling cherry tomatoes and mint. Friends and family have donated oregano and raspberries. The activities of digging, shoveling, transporting, weeding, transplanting, potting, watering, and waiting have made me consider how we use these terms metaphorically in English, all the time.
An abundance of agricultural metaphors in English
To plant an idea
To reap the benefits
To branch out
To nip something in the bud
To turn over a leaf
To see the fruits of your labour
To dig in
To see what comes up
To plow through something
To be rooted
To weed something out
To fence something off
Often the contemporary figurative usage is so deeply dug in that it seems severed from the original meaning.
We’re opening a new branch
They’re looking for seed money
So, are “to sow” and “to sew” related?
This question is a random offshoot, but an interesting one. The two verbs sound the same, which makes them homonyms. But do they share a root?
In my mind, both actions can involve pressing something (a seed or a needle) down into something else (the ground or some cloth). My friend Jordan also noted that in both sowing and sewing, you pay attention to spacing, between individuals seeds or stitches, and between rows.
Another piece of evidence in favour of a common root comes from Turkish. In Turkish, dikmek can mean both verbs. You can dikmek young saplings and you can dikmek leather.
Alas, the English words come from different sources, according to the Online Etymology Dictionary. “Sow” comes from Old English sawan, from the Proto-Indo-European root *se, related to the words semen, season, and seed. The main idea is scattering seeds. “Sew” comes from Old English siwian, from the Proto-Indo-European *syu, which is related to thread, string, and tailors. The main idea is binding things together.
Time to sew up this scattered blog post and get some lettuce in the ground – Happy spring!