After using some fenugreek in the curry I cooked this evening, I was left wondering about its etymology.

Fenugreek is obviously related to French fenugrec, and I guessed that it was probably derived from the French with the grec part rendered in English as its meaning of “Greek”. This does indeed turn out to be correct.

But where does the French word come from? I thought perhaps fenouil grec, which would be “Greek fennel”, but this is not the case. The French is in fact derived from Latin faenugraecum, a contraction of faenum graecum—“Greek hay” (it was used for fodder).

However, I wasn’t completely off the mark, because the origin of the English word fennel—and of its French equivalent fenouil, is the Latin faeniculum. And faeniculum is a diminutive of faenum, hay, which leads us back to the beginning.

So fenugreek is not Greek fennel, but Greek hay—yet fennel itself is also hay.