R is for Rutabaga

Ah! The great turnip debate! This is one of our stand-out family favourite words and one of the hardest for me to translate because even in my own household, we can’t agree on what a rutabaga should be called. For those entirely in the dark, here is a picture:


Now – British readers – what is that? Is it

a) a swede?


b) a turnip?

Because this is my own little imperfect and idiosyncratic dictionary I am going to stick my neck out and declare that where I come from (Edinburgh) a rutabaga is a turnip. It has yellow flesh and is often boiled, mashed with butter, called neeps and served with haggis. Clearly this is a turnip because neeps is a corruption of the word turnip and there is no way neeps are made out of these:


These are swedes. Yes?

Well where I come from, yes, but where Mr T. comes from (north of England) or here (Pennsylvania) where the children are growing up, these are turnips.

I blame the Swedish.


However this muddle arose, all paths lead back to the Swedes. Rutabaga comes from Swedish: ruta (meaning root) and baga (meaning bag). Don’t you just love it when a word sounds really outlandish but in fact is drearily literal ;). Swedes are called swedes as a shortened form of swedish turnip. The word turnip, however, has its roots (no pun intended) in Latin and Old & Middle English. From what I can gather the turn bit describes it’s round shape (like something that has been turned on a lathe) and the nip bit comes from the Latin word napus and the Old English form of naep or neep… which means turnip.

Mmm. Neep. Seems to me then that the thing that we Scots eat with haggis – our mashed yellow neeps – must indeed be the turnip and the little white swedish jonny-come-lately turnip is in fact, as stated, a swede. Yes?

Haggis, potato and rutabaga anyone?

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