The Ligustrum vulgare, the English Privet, seems to have a confused history. It was known to the ancient Greeks as an important plant in making their formal gardens or topia "places" which gives us the word topiary for which Ligustrum vulgare is well-suited. If you've ever cared for a privet hedge, you know that they need to be pruned very early in spring. Which fact makes the historical name primprint somewhat apt even if this etymology "first spring" is in dispute.

What seems to confuse things is a much earlier attestation to an English place name in the Anglo Saxon Chronicle. Pryfetes flode, now Privett, Hampshire. However, I think this is a false cognate. I have some Welsh ancestry and an old Welsh dictionary which lists Pryfydd as vermin-killer. I read elsewhere that the older meaning was rabbit-hunter, but I can no longer find that reference. Flode is a gulch. Why is there a place name in Hampshire with a Welsh name? Or is this not the origin of the name at all? Welsh rabbit-hunter's gulch? Is this a joke? I looked on a map and Privett is at a high point in the Chalk Ridge of South Downs not a gulch providing easy access to the great forest beyond. And in the Anglo Saxon Chronicle, a nobleman was thrown from the cliff whether to his death or to dispose of the body is unclear. Is this another example of the English poking fun at the Welsh their frequent object of derision?

Can anyone shed any light on the confused and entangled history of Privett, Hampshire and Privet, Ligustrum vulgare? I think they are unrelated, but separately interesting etymologies.


privet: Origin unknown. Compare later primprint n., prim n.2, and primp n., and also primet n. A connection between the present word and later private adj.1, privy adj. has frequently been suggested, but there is no evidence to support this.

Apparently attested early in place names, as Pryfetesflode (c900 in an annal for the year 755), Prevet (1207), Pruuet (c1245), Privet (1248), now Privett, Hampshire; bosco de Prevet (1268), boscus de Pryvet (14th cent.), now Privett Farm, Wiltshire. The β forms are perhaps attested earlier in the following place name: Prinelegh (read Priuelegh) (1380), Preuelegh (1481), now Prewley, Devon

  • 1
    Nice job of preparatory research. I hope someone here has access to better sources than you have, but I doubt any exist outside The Bodleian Library or possibly that of some other university.
    – Robusto
    Apr 16, 2014 at 17:18
  • Aaron, I have been reading from Anglo-Saxon dictionaries and trying to avoid an eisegesis that comes with the style of words but I love your question. I have a few ideas but this may be a case of probabiliorism.
    – Third News
    Apr 17, 2014 at 5:18
  • I am curious if privet is related to привет (Russian) of slavic origin.
    – lanan
    Jul 4, 2017 at 16:16
  • privet and привет are totally unrelated. припри- is one of the common
    – Aaron K
    May 19, 2018 at 18:49
  • affixes in Russian that signals arrival. вет is agreement. The same root in совет (Soviet) where that agreement was 'together' rather than nearby. при- turns go into arrive, the ground into the landing and I think a column into a special arrival column: bollard.
    – Aaron K
    May 19, 2018 at 19:02

1 Answer 1


Investigative Process

Since the scientific name for the plant is easier to trace due to the obsessive nature of botany and herbology, I thought a good place to start would be to trace the source of when this plant got its name.

From the Theatrum Botanicum: The Theater of Plants : Or, An Herball of Large Extent: Containing Therein a More Ample and Exact History and Declaration of the Physicall Herbs and Plants ... Distributed Into Sundry Classes Or Tribes, for the More Easie Knowledge of the Many Herbes of One Nature and Property (Published 1640), it had this to say:

Page 1443

Page 1444

Through this we now know that as out 1640 the name had been established in the botany world.

However, searching prior to this time I've run into a snag. Most of it is in Latin (which I do not know very well. So, I decided to put it into Google Translate in hopes that I would get a rough idea of what they are talking about.

This is a passage from Antonii Riccoboni Rhodigini De historia liber: cum fragmentis historicorum veterum latinorum summa fide & diligentia ab eodem collectis & auctis : quorum auctores sequens pagella indicabit by Antonio Riccobono from 1579 (approximate date).

Page 60

Pktonis Gorgias Ennij Besides the famous action against old age, there are four are common: first thatit substarcts from thing s[geredis]; second, that it makes the body weak: third that it subtracts from almost all pleasures of fourth, that it is not far from death.

Privet (in this case) seems to mean 'to take', or 'to deprive'. There might be some connection, but it's hard to tell at this point.

Curious, I went even further back in time to find where exactly did this word originate. If there was an origin I could look at. Suffice to say, when you go further than 1570, well, English ain't what it is today.

Page 80

(Extract from Hermogenis Tarsensis rhetoris acutissimi De ratione inueniendi oratoria, libri IIII, by Hermogenes, Johannes Sturm, Jan Kocýn z Kocynéthu Excudit Iosius Rihelius., 1570).

At this point I completely lost the plot because I was too fascinated with where I've gone that I completely forgot my initial intention in the first place. But why did I search for the common name instead of the Latin one? Truthfully? No idea. I just thought I could get further if I used that route.

One thing I did notice was between the term, name and word Privet/Privett there is a constant connection with 'iliad'. Many of the older books I've searched through had the two close words (iliad & privet) close together. Here's one from Thesaurus graecae linguae linguae, cui, conpingendo, additum est opus : glossaria duo... adutriusq. linguae cognitionem...perutilia. Item de atticae linguae seu dialecti idiomatis commentarium H. Stephanus by Henri Estienne ('Privet' is marked with the red arrow).

Page 89

Perhaps coincidence, but interesting nonetheless.

  • I think that the OCR software has found these Greek words by mistake. The second to last highlighted word is μηδένα which, I have learned, is Greek for "nobody" and unrelated to privet. The word you've marked with a red arrow is φρένα which seems to mean midriff and is sadly also not a reference to Privet. The text is a Greek thesaurus in Latin and contains many references to Iliad and no references to Privet or privets. I think these are false leads due to mis-recognition by OCR software.
    – Aaron K
    Apr 22, 2014 at 1:39
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    @AaronK Thank you Aaron! I'm glad that someone read my answer and scrutinized it. That makes a lot more sense then. I think you're right, as I have not found any relations between the two either. Except from what is now evidently an OCR mismatch. Well, back to square one, as they say...
    – Tucker
    Apr 22, 2014 at 11:23
  • I've put in what I think Rhodigini was saying, but it's not clear by any means. In Latin, privet means 'it deprives' or 'he subtracts'; possibly the herbalist was speculating outrageously on this small foundation. Jul 13, 2018 at 12:45
  • @TimLymington Could be, but since I cannot read Greek, I tried my best to answer it. It was a fun exercise regardless.
    – Tucker
    May 28, 2019 at 6:35

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