The answer is rocket: the garden variety that is, not the pointy, space-travelling or noisy firework kind.
And so we ate and I wondered to myself why the UK English and American English words for this leaf should be so wildly different. And the answer to that question is… that they’re not.
Rocket’s latin plant name is Eruca sativa. In Italy the eruca bit became the word rucola, while in France they went for rocquette.
So: imagine some Italian immigrants making their way through Ellis Island, say rucola quickly a few times in the best Italian accent you’ve got and I think you should be able to arrive at arugula.
But don’t be misled into imagining that the pointy, space-travelling or noisy firework kind of rocket also comes from the French word rocquette because it doesn’t. It comes from the Italian word rocca, meaning a stick or spindle and so rockets get their name through similarity of shape. There must be a big fancy-pants name for words developing through metaphor in this way but I’ve no idea what that is – yet. Mrs T Snr is looking into it 😉