The Simple Reason Potatoes Are Nicknamed Spuds

For a rather unassuming vegetable, the potato has quite a long and rich history that spans several parts of the world. Ancient Incas in Peru cultivated potatoes and even measured time by how long it took to cook a potato. In France, the fashionable Marie Antoinette wore potato blossoms in her hair. You might remember learning about the 1845-1852 Irish Potato Famine when a mold infestation destroyed most of the potato crop in Ireland, resulting in the starvation deaths of around one million Irish citizens.

Potatoes have been such a pivotal vegetable throughout history that they have developed multiple nicknames including tubers, taters, and of course, spuds. While tubers (plants that mainly grow underground) and taters are pretty obvious, you might be wondering, why spud? The answer is simple: A "spud" is also the name of a sharp tool used to dig up potatoes. Around the mid-19th century, English speakers started using the term as a nickname for potatoes after it was first used in New Zealand in 1845.

A different but unlikely reason for the nickname

While they're considered the fourth most important food crop in the world and the leading vegetable crop in the U.S., potatoes haven't always been popular. In mid-19th century France, for example, potato cultivation was banned as the crop was thought to spread leprosy. In Britain during the 1800s, an activist group named The Society for the Prevention of an Unwholesome Diet also protested the potato, possibly out of fear that it would overshadow their wheat crops. The group claimed that potatoes caused a number of diseases including tuberculosis and syphilis. According to some, the acronym representing this group's name, S.P.U.D., is what led to potatoes being called spuds.

This explanation is debatable, however, with many believing the term to be more likely derived from the name of the tool used to harvest the crop. The exact origin of the word spud is unknown, but it was likely derived from the Latin word "spad" or the Danish word "spyd," meaning "spear."