Thursday, September 20, 2012

Apricots, Loquats, Kumquats and at Least Two Other Fruits

The assumption: The words loquat, kumquat and apricot all refer to small fruits. The end syllables must share an etymological connection. Right?

Nope. But arriving at that answer was educational. You know, as reading the extracurriculars often are.

According to Etymonline, the syllable in loquat and kumquat is the same, even though the former is a stonefruit and the latter a citrus. (Linguistics, I guess, don’t care about no fruit breedin’ or nothing.) In Cantonese, kwat means “orange” — the fruit, presumably, and not the color, though loquats and kumquats are similar shades of yellowish-orange. Kumquat, in fact, means “golden orange.” Loquat, however, means “rush orange,” and I’m assuming that “rush” isn’t in the sense of hurrying but rather the grassy kind of plants in which the princess found Baby Moses, though not being present at the fruit-naming ceremony, I can’t be sure. Cantonese-speakers, what say you?

So while those two words from the Sino-Tibetan language family, apricot is Indo-European. However, the path it took to the form we know now is long and meandering. Etymonline lays it out: It entered English in the 1550s as abrecock, which came from the Catalan abercoc, which is related to the Portuguese albricoque, which in turn came from the Arabic al-birquq, which came from the Byzantine Greek berikokkia, which finally goes back to the Latin malum precoquum, which means “early-ripening fruit” on account of ancient peoples thinking it was an type of peach that got ripe sooner than others. And that precoquum also gives us the word precocious. See? Meandering — from Point A to Point B like a drunk guy trying to find a bathroom.

Two random notes, however: First, in looking up apricot, I found the Etymonline entry for gingko, which is a Japanese word drawn from the Chinese ying-hing, “silver apricot.” Second, the same search also pulled up aubergine, the fancy British name for eggplant, which, as you may know, is a fascination of mine on account of them being nasty. Of the two etymologies provided, one says that aubergine — a diminutive of auberge, “a kind of peach” — comes from the Spanish alberchigo, which also means “apricot.”

Cots and quats, I tell you.

No comments:

Post a Comment