Derivation of "Agaric"

Stephen P. Bentivenga invam at WVNVM.WVNET.EDU
Thu Mar 21 10:10:11 EST 1996

In response to the recent speculation on the derivation of "fly-agaric" .....

The modern word "agaric" is derived from the Greek word "agarikon" (the
Latin spelling is "agaricum"), which was used to donote a polypore fungus
(most likely *Fomitopsis officinalis*).  According to the Greek physician,
Dioscorides (1st Century A.D.), the word is ultimately derived from the town
of "Agaria" in Sarmatia, where this fungus was supposedly abundant.  I do
not know how the meaning of the word was shifted from a polypore to the
gilled mushrooms, but I suspect that Linnaeus had something to do with this.

As you can see, the word has NOTHING to do with agar-based culture media,
and it pre-dates our modern concepts of microbes and their growth by over
1200 years!  

To learn more, check out:  Buller, A.H.R.  1914.  The fungus lore of the
Greeks and Romans. Trans. Brit. Mycol. Soc. 5: 21-66.  

- Steve Bentivenga

Stephen R. Berlant wrote:
>To the contrary, it always seemed to me that "fly-agaric" must have been 
>derived from our word "agar" for a growth medium"; because, the mushrooms 
>odor, resembling that of rotting flesh, caused flies to lay their eggs on it, 
>as evidenced by popular reports that maggots appear on the mushroom soon after 
>it starts to decay.
>I was wondering if anybody had any recent info that supported or refute either 
>of these positions.
>My thanks in advance.
>Stephen R. Berlant 


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