- \ \ [OE] Like many other tree-names, beech goes back a long way into the past, and is not always what it seems. Among early relatives Latin fāgus meant ‘beech’ (whence the tree’s modern scientific name), but Greek phāgós, for example, referred to an ‘edible oak’. Both come from a hypothetical Indo-European *bhagos, which may be related to Greek phagein ‘eat’ (which enters into a number of English compounds, such as phagocyte , literally ‘eating-cell’, geophagy , ‘earth-eating’, and sarcophagus). If this is so, the name may signify etymologically ‘edible tree’, with reference to its nuts, ‘beech mast’. The Old English word bēce’s immediate source was Germanic *bōkjōn, but this was a derivative; the main form bōkō produced words for ‘beech’ in other Germanic languages, such as German buche and Dutch beuk, and it survives in English as the first element of buckwheat , so named from its three-sided seeds which look like beech nuts. It is thought that book may come ultimately from bōk- ‘beech’, on the grounds that early runic inscriptions were carved on beechwood tablets.\ \ Cf.⇒ BOOK, BUCKWHEAT, PHAGOCYTE, SARCOPHAGUS
Word origins - 2ed. J. Ayto. 2005.