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Alternative names, like groundnut and earthnut, make sense. In German, peanuts are called Erdnüsse, literally, earth nuts.

Where did the word "peanut" come from, and how did it become the dominant English name for Arachis hypogaea?

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3 Answers 3

To make it short, peanuts are actually not nuts, but related to peas. So when a pea looks and tastes like a nut, what might one call it?

It used to be called both ground pea and ground nut. The etymology authorities at hand don't specifically say why peanut became popular. I suspect that if one pressed the matter further, one would receive more speculation than anything else.

My personal speculation is that peanut is easier to say and catchier as a word than ground pea or ground nut.

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Fair enough, but how did this become common? Sure, scientifically it's a legume, but typically common names for things come from common folk, not botanists. It even grows underground, unlike peas; I see no reason a lay person would associate peas with peanuts at all. (except maybe coming in a pod?) –  TJ Ellis Jul 15 '11 at 15:13
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I don't know the answer, but from my personal experience there is a particular flavour in raw peas (and raw beansprouts) that I dislike, which is also in raw peanuts. It goes away from all of them on cooking/roasting. –  Colin Fine Jul 15 '11 at 15:18
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@Colin beansprout is another example, they are nothing to do with beans. In AE they are called sprouts which is confusing for a Brit being threatened with sprouts (presumed Brussel sprouts) on their burger! –  mgb Jul 15 '11 at 15:44

Sorry - too long for a comment, but I couldn't resist adding the famous piece of English Language and Usage:

In the nuts (unground) (other than ground-nuts) order, the expression `nuts' shall have reference to such nuts, other than ground-nuts, as would, but for this amending order, not qualify as nuts (unground) (other than ground-nuts) by reason of their being nuts (unground).

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What's the source of that quote? –  Mitch Jul 15 '11 at 17:53
    
I can't find the original text but it is real, it's something like "the 1950 ground nuts order". It's commonly used to ridicule legal or government documents - but actually does make perfect sense if you separate the two meanings of 'ground' –  mgb Jul 15 '11 at 18:29

Etymonline suggests earlier names were ground nut and ground pea, presumably both by partial analogy; I am more familiar with the former.

So perhaps somebody put the two together and then decided the ground was not necessary.

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