Thursday, July 20, 2017

Language of Confusion: Feeling Fruity, Part I

I can’t believe I haven’t looked at the origins of the names of fruits before! Well, except for orange, which got covered with colors. There’s plenty more citrus to look at, though. But not this week. Next week. Probably.

Apple comes from the Old English aeppel, which could refer to apples, but also just mean fruit. And apple tree. And eyeball. Look, it’s a weird language. Anyway, it comes from the Proto Germanic apalaz and Proto Indo European abel-, apple. Fun fact, in MiddleEnglish apple used to mean any fruit that wasn’t a berry, and also included some nuts. And the tree of knowledge mentioned in the bible might not have had apples, but some other fruit that people were just calling apples.

Peach showed up in the fifteenth century, although weirdly enough it was a last name as early as the late twelfth century. It comes from the Old French pesche (peach or peach tree), which is from the Medieval Latin pesca and Late Latin pessica/persica. That word happens to be from the classical Latin phrase malum Persicum, which is what they called a peach and literally translates to Persian apple. Although they stole that phrase from Greek. Peaches are actually Chinese, but they did come to Europe via Persia and I guess that’s the name that stuck.

Cherry first showed up in the fourteenth century, although it did appear earlier in the last name Chyrimuth, which is literally cherry mouth and why is that not still a name? It comes from the Anglo French cherise, Old North French also cherise, and Vulgar Latin ceresia. That was also taken from Greek, in this case the word kerasian, cherry, and kerasos, cherry tree. The fun fact for this one is that there was another word for cherry in Old English, ciris, which apparently also comes from ceresia, just via West Germanic. Weird.

Grape showed up in the mid thirteenth century from the Old French grape, which meant…grape. Or a bunch of grapes. It’s thought to be from another Old French word, graper, which could mean pick grapes as well as steal or catch with a hook. If that is where it’s from, then it’s from the Proto Germanic krappon (love that word), which means hook. And might be where cramp comes from. And the fun fact for this one: it used to be winberige in Old English, which translates to wine berry. Because come on. That’s all anyone cared about.

Plum comes from the Old English plume (plum, big shock), via a Germanic use of the Vulgar Latin pruna and classical Latin prunum, plum. And yeah, that’s where prune comes from, too, Well, the dried plum prune. Not what you do to overgrown plants. Before that, prunum is from the Greek prounon/proumnon. And, well, if you ever need an anagram for pronoun, now you have one.

Tony Jebson’s page on the Origins of Old English


  1. They say it wasn't an apple tree in the Garden of Eden.
    Almost all of those also have a meaning besides a fruit.

  2. This gives the phrase "apple of my eye" a whole new meaning.

  3. You have to wonder what they called these things before the words came along...


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