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tu·lip (tlĭp, ty-)
1. Any of several bulbous plants of the genus Tulipa of the lily family, native chiefly to Asia and widely cultivated for their showy, variously colored, cup-shaped flowers.
2. The flower of any of these plants.

[French tulipe, alteration of tulipan, from Ottoman Turkish tülbend, piece of muslin used as a headscarf or head covering, from earlier dülbend; see TURBAN.]

Word History: The word tulip, like the cultivated tulip plant itself, has its origins in the Middle East. The tulip figures frequently in Persian verse, where its red color evokes the blood of martyrs and the fire of love, and in Turkey, tulips are associated with the delicate refinement and luxury that characterized the Ottoman Empire at the height of its power. Western European visitors to the Ottoman Empire in the 1500s were astonished by the beautiful expanses of tulips cultivated by the sultans. Tulips were brought to western Europe from the Ottoman Empire sometime in the same century, and the English word tulip ultimately stems from Ottoman Turkish tülbend (modern Turkish tülbent), the word for a piece of muslin used as a headscarf or head covering. The Turkish word for a turban seems to have been used for the flower in western European languages because a fully opened tulip was thought to resemble a turban, the typical headwear of men in the land where tulips originated. (The actual Turkish word for a tulip is lale, from Persian lâle.) Turkish tülbend, used as a name for the tulip, was borrowed into many languages of western Europe as the popularity of the tulip spread, and by the late 1500s it had reached English, in which it was at first variously spelled tulipa, tulipant, and tulip. The English word turban, also first recorded in English in the 1500s, can be traced to Ottoman Turkish tülbend, too.

The American Heritage® Dictionary of the English Language, Fifth Edition copyright ©2022 by HarperCollins Publishers. All rights reserved.

Indo-European & Semitic Roots Appendices

    Thousands of entries in the dictionary include etymologies that trace their origins back to reconstructed proto-languages. You can obtain more information about these forms in our online appendices:

    Indo-European Roots

    Semitic Roots

    The Indo-European appendix covers nearly half of the Indo-European roots that have left their mark on English words. A more complete treatment of Indo-European roots and the English words derived from them is available in our Dictionary of Indo-European Roots.