In the Spanish of central Texas, where I live, when I hear what sounds like mijo, it’s as a casual pronunciation of mi hijo ‘my son’ (and mija, the two-syllable version of the feminine mi hija may be even more common). I don’t know that I’ve ever heard anyone use the actual word mijo, which is, in the definition of the DRAE, a ‘planta de la familia de las Gramíneas, originaria de la India, con tallos de unos seis decímetros de longitud, hojas planas, largas y puntiagudas, y flores en panojas terminales, encorvadas en el ápice.’ The word also refers to the ‘Semilla de esta planta, pequeña, redonda, brillante y de color blanco amarillento.’

The English equivalent is millet, which came into the language from Old French millet, the diminutive of mil. That Old French noun was the cognate of Spanish mijo, with both of them having evolved from the synonymous Latin milium. The American Heritage Dictionary suggests that the Latin word might have developed from a suffixed form of the Indo-European root *mel- that meant ‘to grind,’ and that we see in descendants like native English mill and Spanish moler ‘to grind.’ A century ago, the Encyclopedia Britannica proposed an etymology of milium from Latin mille ‘a thousand’ “in allusion to [the grain’s] fertility,” but that claim has since proved to be nothing more than folk etymology, even if the folks in question put out the best encyclopedia of their era.

© 2013 Steven Schwartzman

2 Comments (+add yours?)

  1. shoreacres
    Jun 09, 2013 @ 16:08:47

    You know me – always susceptible to folk etymology. Still, from what I’ve read, it looks to me like our “molar” or “grinding tooth” is related, rooted (!) in *mel.

    There’s plenty of millet in South Texas, and I surely would have guessed that the word came from mille – but I guess less often than I used to.


    • Steve Schwartzman
      Jun 09, 2013 @ 16:51:17

      Even in ancient times some Roman writers proposed folk etymologies for various Latin words, but most of those have proved to be just that, folk etymologies. Linguists have managed to find the origins of many words, yet quite a few have eluded scholars for centuries and may be forever unknowable. Even some of the most common English words can’t be traced back very far. For example, girl appeared in Middle English, but no one knows where it came from. Or look at the conjectures about hassle:



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