[ Wiktionary : ] Etymology
From the Ancient Greek κῦμα ‎(kûma), from κύω ‎(kúō, “I am pregnant, I conceive”).

*κυμαί ‎(*kumaí), the first-declension nominative plural form which would give precedent to the Latin cȳmae, does not occur.

  1. a young sprout of a cabbage
  2. hollow sphere
  3. spherical layer, stratum
  4. spring shoots of cabbage

What underlying semantic notions connect:

  1. 'cabbage shoots or sprouts' (1 and 4) to 'hollow sphere' (2)?
    Cabbage shoots do not appear spherical; a cabbage does (but which this noun does not mean).

  2. 'stratum' (3) to all the other meanings?

  • 4
    Latin cyma (also written cuma) is a loan from Greek κῦμα. It is a neuter t-stem in both languages, so the correct Latin plural is cymata; cymae is presumably an inner-Latin corruption. I do not see why Wiktionary needs to invent a fictitious Greek antecedent.
    – fdb
    May 11, 2016 at 9:10

1 Answer 1


Some cabbages do form a layered spherical structure much like onions. Therefore cabbages are much more suitable for describing spherical (layered) objects than many other words. A hollow sphere is not far from a spherical layer, and stratum is a layer. The connection between (2), (3) and cabbages seems quite clear.

A couple of things remain unclear to me:

  • I can see the connection between cabbages and spherical things, but not why it would have to be young cabbages in particular. It might be helpful to know what varieties of cabbage were available in antiquity. Many farmed plants have evolved quite a lot in the last two millennia. Perhaps the ancient cabbage was round as young and then took some other shape later on (opened up?).
  • I can see why the Greek verb gives rise to cyma referring to a sprout, but why cabbage? You didn't ask this, though.
  • Thanks. I understand your two last points: please feel free to question them separately, if you are interesteD?
    – user37
    May 12, 2016 at 0:44
  • 1
    @LePressentiment, you are welcome. I have other questions queued up to be asked, so I don't think I will ask those two. The question about ancient cabbages is more about history and biology than Latin, so I wouldn't ask it here. The second one would make a reasonable question, but I don't know if it would be answerable. Feel free to ask those if you want; I don't reserve them to myself.
    – Joonas Ilmavirta
    May 12, 2016 at 11:48

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