July 04, 2005

Couch Potatoes and Canola

The attempt by British potato farmers to get the term couch potato removed from the Oxford English Dictionary discussed recently by Mark has a parallel of a sort in the term canola, from which canola oil is made. The traditional name for this plant is rape; the oil is known as rapeseed oil. Canola is a trademark for a particular cultivar of rape developed in Canada by Keith Downey and Baldur Stefansson. Their cultivar was an improvement because it contains much lower levels of the glucosinolates, which give the oil a bitter flavor, and of erucic acid, an amino acid, which causes heart lesions. The name Canola reflects this fact. It stands for Canadian Oil Less Acid.

Although Canola strictly speaking designates only one of many varieties of rape and is a trademark to boot, it has become very widely used in the United States as the generic term for the plant, evidently because rape was felt to be unappealing.

Etymologically, the plant rape has nothing to do with the crime. The name of the plant descends from Old English rapum "turnip", while the crime is a derivative of the Latin verb rapere "to seize".

Posted by Bill Poser at July 4, 2005 02:34 AM