intransitive verb
1 : to lead a passive existence without exertion of body or mind
2 a : to grow in the manner of a plant; also : to grow exuberantly or with proliferation of fleshy or warty outgrowths
b : to produce vegetation

transitive verb
: to establish vegetation in or on

borrowed from Late Latin vegetātus, past participle of vegetāre “to live, grow,” going back to Latin, “to impart energy to, invigorate,” verbal derivative of vegetus “vigorous, active, lively,” probably, if from *vegitus, verbal adjective of vegēre “to give vigor to, enliven” — more at 1wake.


Basic backformation accounts for the transitive sense, and the intransitive senses 2 a and b definitely align with the word’s etymology. However, the origin cited in Merriam-Webster and its connotations—specifically “‘vigorous, active, lively’”—seems to me the antithesis of the intransitive sense 1.

Could someone shed some light on this discrepancy?

  • To "vegetate" is to act like a vegetable. When was the last time you saw a carrot dancing around? – Hot Licks Jun 1 '18 at 0:20
  • @HotLicks That feels slightly condescending, but touché. Also, by that logic: why does one not fruitate or pillowate, especially when the word historically has such diametric connotations? – gen-z ready to perish Jun 1 '18 at 0:27
  • 1
    Some vegetables seem more vigorous growers than others. Arugula is also sometimes called rocket because of how quickly it grows, while potatoes are so slow that they are used in an expression for inactive people. – Edwin Ashworth Jun 1 '18 at 0:36
  • I suspect that the popularity of the "passive" sense of the term is a relatively recent thing (I'd guess ca 1980), though Etymonline traces the usage back to 1740. – Hot Licks Jun 1 '18 at 0:45

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