As I was browsing gardening sites to check where I should plant my twenty-one baby asparagus plants, grown from seed last year, I came across a reference to sparrowgrass.
I think I prefer that name.
It's a folk etymology. It came into English from the Latin form, asparagus, but by the seventeenth century had been shortened to sparagus, after which it was anglicised to sperage. Alongside this form, some people began to call it sparrowgrass, because of the similarity to those two English words. During the nineteenth century, the folk name died out and it reverted to asparagus. All this I read on word-origins.com. The article says grocers still call asparagus grass. I've never heard anyone do so, but I've never talked to a grocer about this plant.
All very interesting - well, to me.
But the fun part came when I looked at an ABC Science site. Apparently, many people have stinky urine after eating this plant. (Hmm, I'll have to enquire amongst my friends - close friends).
However, although we've been eating asparagus for thousands of years, and people have written about it for at least two and a half thousand years, no one mentioned the stinky wee until the seventeenth century. In the article, Dr Karl S. Kruszelnicki looks at some theories about why this might be so.
And he's written another article about the chemicals behind this stinky wee. And wouldn't you have guessed it? One of them is called asparagusic acid!