Etymology of orchard

As a German I would assume that orchard is related to German Obstgarten (a garden with fruit trees), and as Obstgarten has a consonant group of four consonants bst+g the bst was somehow reduced and changed.

Etymonline states that the second word element is geard meaning garden/yard. As to the first element there seems to be some uncertainty. Etymonline says "perhaps reduced from wortgeard, from wort vegetable, plant root". That seems to be a bit doubtful as apples are no vegetable. Etymonline's affirmation that the first element is influenced by Latin hortus (garden) may be, though a word composition like "garden garden" or "enclosed garden" (a tautology) is not very logical.

Anyway, somehow an r was inserted however it may have happened, but I think the most plausible etymology is a relationship with Obstgarten.

I would guess obs- was reduced to long open o and written or- and -t+geard/yard became the sound /tsh/ written ch.

I would like to hear any comments.

  • Comments are not for extended discussion; this conversation has been moved to chat. Please see that chat room before commenting here: your comment may be relevant there.
    – Andrew Leach
    Dec 16, 2014 at 21:28

2 Answers 2


No, you are almost certainly mistaken about any overt borrowing from German Obstgarten to produce English orchard.

You are struggling too hard to look for an added -r-, when in fact, it was already present in Latin (h)ort-(us) right from the get-go. There were also cognate Gothic words starting with aurt-.

However, there is nothing resembling the German word Obstgarten.

Regarding orchard’s etymology, the OED states the following:


orig. OE. ort-ʒeard, parallel to Gothic aurti-gards garden, the first element of which is considered to be Latin hortus (in late and medieval Latin ortus, Italian orto) garden. Cf. Gothic aurtja gardener, and OHG. orzôn ( :– *ortôjan) to cultivate.

Already in 9th c., OE. ortʒeard passed into orcʒeard, orceard, whence ME. orchard; also, with recognition of the second element orch-yard, ort-yard, or, with later conformation to Latin hortus, hort-yard.

The word has had many, many, many, many, many — did I mention many? — spellings in its history since King Ælfred the Great first wrote about it in 897 ᴀᴅ.

The OED lists 44 (yes: forty-four!) different historical spellings of the word, divvying these many forms up into four main sets, denoting each set with a Greek letter and with numbers indicating the nth century (and “1” means from before 1000):


1 ortʒeard, ordceard,
4 ortyerd,
6 ortyerde, ortȝard, ortiard, (ortesyerde),
6–7 ortyard,
7 ort-yard.


1 orcʒeard, -ʒyrd,
1–2 orceard,
(1 orcird, ‑yrd, ‑erd),
3 orchærd, (horechard),
3–6 orcharde,
3– orchard;
(4 orichard,
 4–6 orcherd(e,
 5  Sc. orchart,
 6 ortchard, north. orchert, ‑erit).


4 orchiard, orcheȝerde, ‑ȝarde, ‑yerde,
4–6 orcheyarde,
5 orche-ȝerd, orcheyerd,
6 orchiarde, orchyarde, orcheyard,
6–7 ortchyard,
7–8 orchyard.


6 horteyarde, hortyeard,
6–7 hort(e)yard,
7 hort-yard: see hortyard.

Not a single one of those 44 historical forms bears any real resemblance to German Obstgarten, except insofar as the second element shares a common ancestor in Primitive Germanic with the second element of Modern English orchard. That second element was gart in OHG and geard in Old English, a word that also gave rise to yard in English, and which is closely related to the current Northern English word garth from Old Norse garðr.

Given this evidence, I believe your notion that Obst- contributed to orchard is wholly unfounded. All historical records stand against that idea.

  • 2
    The Gothic word is most likely not just a cognate, but a parallel borrowing, also having (h)orti- from the Latin as its first member, or conceivably having borrowed a Proto-Norse version of the wurti- root very early on. There are very few Nordic loan words in Gothic, though, so the Latin path is quite a bit more likely there. Dec 17, 2014 at 2:30
  • @JanusBahsJacquet For a good time — or perhaps a rather distasteful one — consider also the etymological connection to the now-forbidden French “delicacy” known as the (h)ortolan, the common garden bunting whose taxonomic binomial is Emberiza hortulana.
    – tchrist
    Dec 17, 2014 at 2:39

It is more likely from two OE words: hort from the Latin hortus for garden and geard from the Old High German gart. Making it a garden in the garden.

Phonetically it is a small matter for the leading h to be dropped, and then the dental t interacts with the guttural g to move the dental formation to the current ch before spelling was normalized.

  • 1
    I'd interpret geard as yard and the whole word as garden yard, garden space, or similar.
    – jocap
    Dec 17, 2014 at 1:13
  • 1
    1) There was no h to lose. The h had already been lost in Vulgar Latin on its way to Old French. 2) The g was not a guttural. /g/ was already palatalised and fricativesed to [j] by the time of Old English—much earlier, in fact. So hortgeard is really just an OE way of spelling what we would probably now spell ortyard. Dec 17, 2014 at 2:25
  • I agree with jocap that the CURRENT interpretation would be "garden in the yard", but yard is a phonetic adaptation of the OE geard, which ORIGINALLY meant "garden" in essentially the same sense as the Latin hort.
    – ScotM
    Dec 18, 2014 at 15:50
  • I agree with Janus Bahs Jacquet that the h was generally not pronounced in VL, which is why it was such a small matter to drop it from the normalized spelling. The detailed explanation of moving from the Germanic guttural to the OE pronunciation also adds value to the discussion.
    – ScotM
    Dec 18, 2014 at 15:58

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service, privacy policy and cookie policy

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.