Thursday, October 18, 2018

Language of Confusion: Treats

We did the tricks, now it’s time for the treats.

Treat itself showed up in the fourteenth century, as a verb before it was a noun. It actually didn’t even mean treat in the sense we know it as but as negotiate, or bargain—you know, like would be related to treaty. It wasn’t until the seventeenth century that it was something special that you gave someone, and who knows why that was. But the word comes from the Old French traitier, deal with or act towards, which is thought to be related to tract. But not like a tract of land, which is something completely different. Instead it was related to a tract that meant treatise, and is thought to be related to the classical Latin tractatus, treatment, and tractare, to treat. Man, this was a weird journey.

Candy first showed up in the late thirteenth century specifically meaning crystallized sugar. It comes from the Old French çucre candi, sugar candy. So where does candy come from? It’s one of the rare words English stole from Arabic, where it’s qandi, from the Persian qand, meaning cane sugar. And that one’s thought to be from the Sanskrit khanda, piece of sugar. So the word for candy comes from somewhere in the Middle East/Africa and we should thank them for that.

Sweet comes from the Old English swete, which means, well, sweet. It comes from the Proto Germanic swotja, which is traced all the way back to the Proto Indo European swad-, sweet or pleasant. I’m not even a little surprised that we can trace this word so far back.

And now for my personal favorite, chocolate. It showed up in the seventeenth century from the Mexican Spanish chocolate, which I’m assuming just means chocolate. Why am I specifying that it’s Mexican in origin? Well, because chocolate is American (like, the continent). It comes from the Nahuatl chocola-tl/cacahua-tl, which refers to chocolate and cocoa beans, with the a-tl part meaning water. It’s origins beyond there are murky, although it might be related to the word xocalia, which means “to make something bitter”, and chocolate in its natural state is supposed to be very bitter. But then you add sugar and it becomes just the best thing ever.

Tony Jebson’s page on the Origins of Old English


  1. Why is it both chocolate and cocoa then? Which word came first?

  2. Candy's origins go further back than I would have thought.

  3. You should go to a Ghiradelli chocolate demonstration.

  4. No, one should go to Switzerland for chocolate. They were the originators of chocolate with cocoa butter and sweetened milk. Callier(?) is the finest, with Lindt and Ghiradelli chocolate as friends moving to America. Site: My daughter lives in Switzerland and took us to the factory. Oh my.

    I truly enjoy your posts.

  5. I love that chocolate originated in America.

    English rarely stole words from Arabic? I thought there were a whole bunch, like algebra, zero, and orange.

  6. Interesting that chocolate comes from Mexico. Guess it makes sense given they make mole sauces using it. Which makes me think I might might make my mole beans for dinner tonight...


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