Seed is an old word, dating back to the Old English sǽd. From Psalm 126 (125 in the Catholic Bible) in the Vespasian Psalter of c.875:
Gongende eodon & weopun sendende sed.
(Going they went & wept carrying seed to sow.)
The verb, meaning to sow seeds, dates to c.1440 when it appears in a translation of Palladius on Husbondrie:
The spaces that in heruest sowe or sede Me wol, may best ha now their pastynynge.
(The spaces that in autumn one would sow or seed, may best have now their plowing.)
One of the perennial questions asked of me (usually during some big sports tournament) is what the origin of the word seed in sporting competition. It comes from the verb sense meaning to sow a seed. To seed a tournament is to select who will play who. The sporting usage comes from the practice of deliberately placing the better players of a tournament so that they will not face each other in the early rounds. This seeding is done to produce a “crop” of excellent matches in the later rounds. This use of the verb to seed dates to 13 January 1898 when it appears in the magazine American Lawn Tennis:
Several years ago, it was decided to ‘seed’ the best players through the championship draw, and this was done for two or three years.
The noun appears in 1933. From M.D. Lyon’s The Aldin Book of Outdoor Games:
“But why put my beloved lawners last?” wails the Thibetan “seed.”
(Source: Oxford English Dictionary, 2nd Edition)
Copyright 1997-2017, by David Wilton