General English


  • noun a plant grown for food, especially plants grown for leaves, roots or pods or seeds that are usually cooked



  • noun a plant grown for food, not usually sweet, e.g. a potato, carrot, onion, cabbage, cauliflower, pea or bean

Origin & History of “vegetable”

Latin vegēre meant ‘be active’ (it was formed from the same Indo-European base as lies behind English vigil, vigour, and wake). From it was derived vegetus ‘active’, which in turn formed the basis of vegetāre ‘enliven, animate’. From this again came late Latin vegetābilis ‘enlivening’, which came to be applied specifically to plant growth. It was in this sense that the word entered English (via Old French vegetable), and it was not further narrowed down to ‘plant grown for food’ until the 18th century. Its semantic descent from its original links with ‘life, liveliness’ was completed in the early 20th century, when vegetable came to be used for an ‘inactive person’. The derivative vegetarian was formed in the early 1840s, and vegan was coined from this around 1944.