One of the mysteries of the English language finally explained.
Originally: a small kind of plum, either fresh or dried. Later: specifically the sloe, the bitter fruit of the blackthorn (Prunus spinosa), which may be dried or used to make a liqueur.
Late Middle English; earliest use found in John Trevisa (c1342–?1402), translator. From Anglo-Norman prunele, Middle French prunele, prunelle (French prunelle) sloe and its probable etymon post-classical Latin prunella small plum or sloe, sloe from pruna + -ella. In later use probably partly also from Italian † prunella. Compare post-classical Latin spina prunellifera blackthorn, sloe bush, prunellum sloe, prunella burnet (bearing plum-like rosehips), pruneolum bullace (all three 1579 in a British source).
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