[puh-tey-toh, -tuh] /pəˈteɪ toʊ, -tə/

noun, plural potatoes.
Also called Irish potato, white potato. the edible tuber of a cultivated plant, Solanum tuberosum, of the nightshade family.
the plant itself.
(defs 1, 2).
noun (pl) -toes
Also called Irish potato, white potato

any of various similar plants, esp the sweet potato
(slang) hot potato, a delicate or awkward matter

1560s, from Spanish patata, from a Carib language of Haiti batata “sweet potato.” Sweet potatoes were first to be introduced to Europe; in cultivation in Spain by mid-16c.; in Virginia by 1648. Early 16c. Portuguese traders carried the crop to all their shipping ports and the sweet potato was quickly adopted from Africa to India and Java.

The name later (1590s) was extended to the common white potato, from Peru, which was at first (mistakenly) called Virginia potato, or, because at first it was of minor importance compared to the sweet potato, bastard potato. Spanish invaders in Peru began to use white potatoes as cheap food for sailors 1530s. The first potato from South America reached Pope Paul III in 1540; grown in France at first as an ornamental plant. According to popular tradition, introduced to Ireland 1565 by John Hawkins. Brought to England from Colombia by Sir Thomas Herriot, 1586.

German kartoffel (17c.) is a dissimilation from tartoffel, ultimately from Italian tartufolo (Vulgar Latin *territuberem), originally “truffle.” Frederick II forced its cultivation on Prussian peasants in 1743. The French is pomme de terre, literally “earth-apple;” a Swedish dialectal word for “potato” is jordpäron, literally “earth-pear.”

Colloquial pronunciation tater is attested in print from 1759. Potato chip (n.) attested from 1879. To drop (something) like a hot potato is from 1824. Children’s counting-out rhyme that begins one potato, two potato first recorded 1885 in Canada. Slang potato trap “mouth” attested from 1785.


Related Terms

couch potato, hot potato, meat and potatoes, small potatoes, sweet potato


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  • Potato-leafhopper

    noun 1. any of various leafhoppers that are serious pests, damaging a wide variety of cultivated and wild plants, especially potatoes. 2. a small, light green, white-spotted leafhopper, Empoasca fabae, that is a pest of potatoes in the eastern U.S. and also attacks apple trees and numerous other cultivated plants.

  • Potato-moth

    noun 1. a gelechiid moth, Phthorimaea operculella, the larvae of which feed on the leaves and bore into the tubers of potatoes and other solanaceous plants.

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