Monday, 30 July 2012

Talking of Fruit

We are advised to eat five portions of fruit, and vegetables, each and every single day. They come in several colours, an array of shapes, numerous sizes, and generally speaking the sweeter they are the more we like them. This is of course exactly what the plant desires, to get us to eat its fruit and spread its seeds far and wide.

However there must have been a time when someone first picked or harvested the fruit for eating. In order to pass on the information that such made good eating it was given a name. Of course there was no lavish celebration and cutting of a ceremonial ribbon, not even for those fruits which have been cultivated to produce heavier crops, more appealing colours, and better flavours.

So why were the vegetables named and what, if anything, do they mean? Taking them in no particular order we start with the apple. Doubtless this was among the earliest of fruit, although note the apple is never actually mentioned in Genesis, it is said to be the "fruit of the forbidden tree". This fits with the use of 'apple' as the generic term for all fruit until the seventeenth century - actually this did not include berries but did encompass nuts, which does seem rather confusing today.

Certainly the word can be seen in Old English aeppel, Gaulish avallo, Old Irish ubull, and Lithuanian obuolys as having a common root in Proto-Indo-European abel. It seems likely the word was applied to fruit in general for millennia, especially when we consider the French pomme 'apple' is derived from Latin pomum which again meant simply 'fruit'. Note also that the French for potato pomme de terre means 'earth apple', Middle English eorthaeppla or 'earth apples' referred to cucumbers, and tomatoes were once known as 'love apples', which would tend to confirm the original 'apple' was any fruit.

A peach gets its name from Persis meaning 'Persia' and later seen as 'Persian apple', while nectarine describes 'the nectar peach'. A quince is named after the seaport in Crete through which it was imported from its native Persia, thus telling us of 'the apple of Kydonia'. The pomegranate is from Latin pome grenate meaing 'the apple of many seeds'.

Of course the origins of many fruits depended upon when they were introduced to western Europe. Some were already being cultivated here such as the apricot, which can be traced back through Catalan aberoc, Portuguese albricoque, Arabic al-birquq, Byzantine Greek berikokkia, and ultimately from Latin (malum) praecoquum telling us it was 'the early-ripening (fruit)'.

Note the many names of fruit which are used as colours were applied to the fruit first, although both black currant and red currant were named for their colour, the word currant being a corruption of Corinth, where they were cultivated.

The avocado is a Spanish word meaning 'lawyer' and related to advocate. However this is a corruption of the earlier aguacate, from the original Nahuatl word ahuakatl meaning 'testicle' and a reference to its shape. On the subject of body parts, banana is a Spanish and/or Portuguese loan word, thought to have originated in West African Wolof word meaning simply 'food', although the Arabic banan or 'finger' cannot be discounted entirely. The date comes from the Greek daktylos meaning 'finger, toe' and suggesting it was shaped like the human digits.

Many fruits are berries, these include the blueberry and blackberry, both named for their colour. Raspberry was once seen as raspis berry from raspoie meaning 'thicket'. The origins of strawberry have never been certain, although it certainly does not come from the spreading of straw around the plants to keep the fruit clear of the damp soil. It may come from the seeds, which resemble straw dust particles.

Cranberry was originally applied to the Old World variety, thought to be from kraan or 'crane' with the stamens said to resemble the beaks of this bird. They took the word with them when settling in the New World and gave it to the similar if larger fruit found there. In England the European variety was known as the fenberry for the habitat in which it grew wild. Loganberries are a man-made strain created by crossing a blackberry and a raspberry, it was named after James H. Logan who produced the first fruit. Elderberry is another lost in the mists of time, the best guess is it is said to resemble to the alder tree.

Melon is from the Greek melopepon or 'gourd apple', from a Proto-Indo-European mahla 'grapevine, branch'. This was later seen in the Latin peponem and Middle French pompon which meant 'melon' but also gave the name of the pumpkin. Cherry originated in Greek kerasian but came to English with the Normans and cherise.

Of the citrus fruits the clementine is the most recent. In 1926 an accidental hybrid of a tangerine and an orange produced the fruit named after Father Clement Rodier in the garden of his Algerian orphanage. Tangarines were named after the Moroccan port of Tangiers from where they were first exported. Mandarins are said to be named after the colour of the robes worn by these Chinese officials. The etymology of the orange itself is unknown, although it would have been 'a norange' not 'an orange' but for confusion in the Middle Ages when it was first used as a colour.

Lemons derive their name from Old French limon and earlier meaning 'citrus fruit', hence it was originally a generic term. Lime has identical origins in Arabic limun the collective noun from limah and also meaning 'citrus fruits'. The grapefruit was so-called for it grows in clusters, similar to the grapes which, themselves come from Proto-Germanic krappon meaning 'hook' and assumed to be how they were picked. Incidentally the original English word was winberige 'the wine berry'. Similarly the name of the raisin, from a tongue related to Latin racemus meaning 'cluster of grapes'

It was the shape which gave a name to the pineapple, said to resemble the pine cone. The costard was the original Saxon name for the apple, although it is nothing like the modern varieties but is distinctly 'ribbed' and that is exactly what the name tells us. Another tropical fruit is the mango, which comes from Tamil man kay 'the tree fruit'. Among the earliest of fruits to have been gathered are sloes. Collected for millenia, as the fruit of the blackthorn it is from Proto-Indo-European sleie telling of its colour of 'bluish-black'.

One thing connects all of these names, absolutely none were named by a marketing department and could never be said to advertise themselves. This is particularly true of a modern creation, although the word ugli probably looks uglier than the fruit.

1 comment:

  1. Really interesting. This must have taken a while to research. Strange that we just take these words for granted.