Are you hoping to smooch with someone under "A yellowish-green, dichotomously branched, hemiparasitic Eurasian shrub, Viscum album" (as the OED so unromantically defines it) this Christmas?
Back in Old English, this plant with reputed magical properties was called mistiltan. Tān was the Old English word for "twig". But coincidentally tān was also the plural of tā (toe). This led to a very early confusion of the two words, especially as tān lost the battle to "twig" and died out of the language.
As for the possible etymology of the "mistle" part, it may make you less inclined to hang out under a sprig of this plant. The OED tells us this:
etymology uncertain: perhaps < the Germanic base of mix (the now obsolete Old English word for "dung"), from the fact that the plant is propagated in the excrement of birdsYou will have noticed that the botanical name for mistletoe is Viscum album (album meaning "white"). Being smart word lovers, you will have instantly recognized the source of our word "viscous". Viscum was what the Romans called not only mistletoe, but the slimy, sticky substance made from its berries that was spread on tree branches to catch birds.
Having now filled your brain with associations like "excrement" and "slime" for this innocent word, may I express my wish for you that any relationship that starts (or continues) for you under the mistletoe this Christmas is one that... sticks.
I'm offering my Rollicking Story of the English Language course again in the New Year! More info here: