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alfalfa, n.


α. 17– alfalfa; U.S. regional (Kansas) 18– alfalfy, 19– alfalthy.

β. 18– alfarfa (chiefly U.S.).

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Frequency (in current use): 
Etymology:  A borrowing from Spanish. Etymons: Spanish alfalfa, alfarfa.
Originally (in α. forms) < Spanish alfalfa (?c1250), ultimately < Spanish Arabic al-faṣfaṣa   < Arabic al-   the + Spanish Arabic faṣfaṣa   lucerne, variant of literary Arabic fiṣfiṣa   ( < Persian †aspast  , already in Middle Persian), perhaps via an unattested Arabic collective noun *faṣfaṣ  , with dissimilation of consonants and reanalysis of the final   of that form as plural.
In β. forms   apparently < American Spanish (chiefly Mexico, New Mexico) alfarfa (1714), variant (with dissimilation of consonants) of alfalfa.
Portuguese alfafa alfalfa, esparto (13th cent. as (now rare) alfalfa; also alfarfa, with dissimilation of consonants) shows a merger with an unrelated borrowing < Arabic al-ḥalfā' < al the + ḥalfā' esparto (also ḥalfa).

  A leguminous plant, Medicago sativa, with clover-like leaves and bluish flowers, native to south-west Asia and widely cultivated elsewhere, chiefly as a forage crop. Also called lucerne.

1764   W. Harte Ess. Husbandry ii. 20   Alfalfa, whose luxuriant herbage feeds the lab'ring ox, mild sheep, and fiery steeds.
1839   C. Darwin in R. Fitzroy & C. Darwin Narr. Surv. Voy. H.M.S. Adventure & Beagle III. xviii. 418   The beds of alfarfa, a kind of clover.
1868   Harper’s New Monthly Mag. Aug. 321/1   Our mules pricked up their ears, and with visions of infinite alfalfa before them broke into a lively trot.
1891   Judge’s Libr. Nov. 20/1   He'd done fenced in his claim an' cut two craps of alfalfy afore that feller ever seed the steerage.
1916   Reclam. Rec. Apr. 158/2   We were told to ‘grow alfalfy’, and the advice sure was sound.
1979   W. Ebeling Fruited Plain v. 197   Those who advocate less reliance on use of meat as human food..point to alfalfa as a source of vegetable protein.
2008   New Mexico Mag. Feb. 12/2   Today, farmers pump water from wells to irrigate alfalfa.

1764—2008(Hide quotations)




  alfalfa weevil   n. either of two small brown weevils of the genus Hypera, esp. the European H. postica, which are serious pests of alfalfa and have been introduced into North America.

1911   Science 17 Mar. 420/1   T. D. Urbahns..will go to Salt Lake City to take up an investigation of the alfalfa weevil.
1944   R. Matheson Entomol. for Introd. Courses xv. 368   The alfalfa weevil Phytonomus posticus , is a pest of alfalfa in the western states.
1971   B. A. Haws & C. C. Burkhardt in R. E. Pfadt Fund. Appl. Entomol. (ed. 2) xi. 327   A related species, the Egyptian alfalfa weevil, occurred first in Arizona and southern California in 1939.
2004   A. E. Hajek Nat. Enemies i. v. 93   The fungal pathogen Zoophthora phytonomi and its alfalfa weevil host (Hypera postica) have been manipulated to enhance disease epizootics.

1911—2004(Hide quotations)


  alfalfa sprout   n. an edible sprouting seed of alfalfa; chiefly in pl.

1891   Arizona Republican 28 Nov. 1/4   The ten acres of gallata grass stumps on which he last spring grafted alfalfa sprouts are now producing a succulent hay.
1912   Bull. Bureau Plant Industry (U.S. Dept. Agric.) No. 248. 51   Both foreign residents and natives eat the young alfalfa sprouts prepared like spinach.
1979   Tucson (Arizona) Mag. Apr. 78/1   Try one of their special alfalfa sprout, avocado and jack cheese open face sandwiches.
2009   E. M. Haas & P. James More Veg. Please! ii. 23/2   Alfalfa sprouts are a nice addition to an omelet.

1891—2009(Hide quotations)


This entry has been updated (OED Third Edition, September 2012).

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