Thursday, October 31, 2019

Language Of Confusion: Gourd-geous

Shut up, I’m proud of that name.

Since it’s Halloween (!!!), why not look at the origin of the word pumpkin, and other gourds that pop up this time of year?

First of all, gourd itself showed up in the fourteenth century from the Anglo French gourde and Old French coorde, which can then be traced to the classical Latin cucurbita, which just means gourd or pumpkin. It’s origin before there is unknown, although some people think it might be related to the word for cucumber: cucumis. Spelling-wise that makes sense, but the first lesson you should learn about etymology is that it never makes sense.

Pumpkin itself showed up in the mid seventeenth century, although it did appear in English before that as pompone/pumpion. No K though. It comes from the Middle French pompon and classical Latin pepon, watermelon. They of course took that from the Greek pepon, which means melon, and is thought to be related to peptein, to cook, descended from the Proto Indo European pekw-, cook or ripen. This one makes even less sense than usual.

Now, squash. Like the food, not what you do to something. Because those aren’t related at all. Remember what I said about etymology making no sense? See, the gourd showed up in the mid seventeenth century, coming from the Narraganset askutasquash, “the things that may be eaten raw”. It’s just a coincidence that it happens to be the same as squashing something, although I’m sure the fact that it was already a word in English helped people decide to just call that type of gourd a “squash”.

Finally today, zucchini showed up fairly recently, in the early twentieth century. It’s from the Italian zucchino, zucchini, from zucca, which means… pumpkin. We’ve come full circle.



  1. I've never eaten squash or zucchini. And I intend to keep it that way.

  2. What, so people used to cook melons?


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