For centuries potatoes were excavated by hand using various implements, one of which was called a spud. It was typically a sharp, narrow-bladed tool something like a trowel. The name probably goes back as far back as the mid-1400s and may have come from the Latin “spad” or sword. Or, it might have come from the Dutch “spyd” which was a short dagger, or the Norse “spjot” which was a spear. Most sources pinpoint its entry into the printed English language to a reference in 1845 in New Zealand.
And now you know what a spud was. Why the word slipped over from the digging implement to the tuber it was digging is lost to history, but it’s not too startling that it did.
According to the website todayifoundout.com some have tried to attach the origin of the word to an acronym. SPUD was an acronym in England for the Society for the Prevention of an Unwholesome Diet, a 19th Century group that had ideas about what one should eat. Potatoes were on the Do Not Eat side of their ledger. It’s unlikely, though, because making words out of acronyms is a 20th Century phenomenon that came into vogue long after the members of SPUD had all been buried, probably with full-sized shovels. Even the word “acronym” wasn’t in use until 1943. We can all thank our lucky stars that it was invented, though, because government could not exist without them.
So “spud” probably wasn’t an acronym, originally. I bet we could do a backformation, though. What should it mean today? Super Potatoes Under Dirt? Society for the Promotion of Underused Dingbats? You tell me.