7 eye-opening “coffee” etymologies

Today is National Coffee Day. Tomorrow is International Coffee Day. But for java junkies like myself, every day is coffee day. Here’s a fresh cup of some tasty coffee-related etymologies.

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How do you take your coffee? Why, with a little etymology. “Goblet of coffee” by Carlos Sillero, courtesy of freeimages.com.

Coffee

The Oxford English Dictionary (OED) first attests coffee in 1598. Some etymologists have linked coffee to Kaffa, the Ethiopian region where coffee was first grown. But the word actually appears to derive from the Arabic qahwah, which may have originally meant “wine.” Some basic meaning of “brew” might explain the sense development. The OED notes that the root of this qahwah is a verb, qahiya, “to have no appetite,” which coffee and wine lovers will agree is absolutely preposterous. The Turkish kahveh , borrowed from the Arabic, influenced the spelling and pronunciation of coffee in its many European cognates (e.g., café).

Espresso

In Italian, espresso literally means “pressed out,” alluding to how the strong, dark drink is produced under stream pressure. English has been sipping espresso since 1945. And don’t feel too bad if you’ve been called out for pronouncing espresso with an x: the English express is essentially the same word as espresso, from the Latin exprimere, “to push out.”  

Latte

US speakers shortened latte from caffè latte (1840s) in the late 1980s. It’s Italian for “milk coffee.” Café au lait and café con leche are the respective French and Spanish equivalents. Lait, leche, and latte are all poured from Latin’s lac, which also gives English the words lactate and even lettuce. The Greek cousin of lac is seen in galaxias, literally “milky circle,” hence Milky Way and galaxy. Coffee is truly of cosmic proportions. 

Machiatto

A caffè macchiatto is a “stained coffee,” as it’s espresso served with just a spot of hot or foamed milk. In Italian, macchia means “spot” or “blemish,” from the Latin macula for the same. Something that’s immaculate, then, is the etymological opposite of a macchiato. But like latte, both caffè macchiatto and the abbreviated macchiatto have been tasting immaculate on English-speaking lips since the 1980s.

Cappuccino

The color of a cappuccino, apparently, resembles the brown hoods of the Capuchin monks. These friars indeed take their name from the distinctive “hooded cloaks,” or capuccio or capuche in Italian, they wear. These words come from the Latin Latin cappa, source of cap, cape, escape, chapel, and even a capella. The word was served up in English, according to the OED, by 1948, when author Robert O’Brien described the beverage as “gray, like the robe of a capuchin monk.” Brown? Gray? Whatever the case, cappuccino makes for a truly beautiful color.

Mocha

The word coffee may or may not hail from Kaffa, but mocha indeed comes from Mokha,  the Red Sea coastal city in Yemen and historically important marketplace for coffee. Mocha coffee, now associated with the addition of chocolate to a latte, has been delighting English speakers since 1773. 

Americano

A café Americano is espresso with added hot water – a term that wasn’t intended as a compliment when Central American Spanish started using the term in the 1950s. The description stereotypes an American taste for a milder cup of joe. Perhaps a coffee snob will agree that the americano makes for an inferior cup, but any proper coffee addict will never turn down a good americano – or coffee-inspired word origin.

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turkey

Fast Mash

  • Turkey first appears as turkey-cock and turkey-hen in 1541, originally referring to the sub-Saharan guinea fowl and later confused with the North American bird
  • Both the guinea fowl and turkey made it to English-speaking peoples by way of Turkish traders, called “turkey merchants,” who controlled much of the Mediterranean in the Middle Ages during the Ottoman empire
  • 16th-century Spanish conquistadors brought the turkey from North America (where the Aztecs had long before domesticated the bird in Mexico) to these Turkish hands

Last week, I looked into the etymology of burger for another guest post for LexicolatryTwo all-beef patties of American contradiction, the origin of burger is messy–just like a good burger should be.

But it’s probably not burgers on the minds or in the stomachs of many of my American readers as the Thanksgiving holiday approaches. Not turkey burgers, not Thanksgiving burgers–the bird’s the word.

And words, like food, are a tasty way to slice history.

Turkey

It turns out the bird and the country don’t just make for junior high geography jokes or World War I mnemonics. They’re actually connected–dare I say–at the thigh.

Well, sort of.

Originally, turkey–or turkey-cock (attested in 1541) and turkey-hen, back when our intimacy with where our food comes from necessitated such distinctions–referred to the guinea fowl, a bird native to sub-Saharan Africa.

The guinea fowl (or guineafowl), courtesy of Encyclopedia Britannica Online and Index Open.

According to some historians, these African guinea fowl made their way into Europe during the Middle Ages through the Turkish Ottoman Empire, which controlled much of North Africa, southern Europe, and the Middle East. So-called “turkey merchants” traded the birds and other goods and wares.

In the early 16th-century, Spanish conquistadors imported into Europe what we now think of as the turkey, domesticated by the Aztecs in Mexico as early as 800 BC, through the Turkish-dominated Mediterranean, whereupon English-speaking peoples misidentified this bird with the African guinea fowl. (Apparently, corn was also known as turkey corn or turkey wheat due to the same Turkey-by-way-of-Spain-by-way-of-the-New-World channel.) The English name for the American bird stuck, even after the Portuguese brought back–and correctly distinguished from its distant American cousin–guinea fowl from West Africa. Cookbooks from the late 1500s and early 1600s provide evidence that the turkey was already a centerpiece at English feasts, including Christmas.  As for why we came to eat turkey for Christmas and Thanksgiving, Slate offers a digestible bit of food anthropology here.

The Ancient Greeks called the guinea fowl μελεαγρίς, apparently a reference to the Meliagrides, sisters of the Argonaut Meleager, leader of the famed Calydonian boar hunt. Upon Meleager’s tragic death, his sisters were changed into guinea hens. Father of modern taxonomy Carl Linnaeus used the name to classify the genus of the North American bird (Meleagris gallopavo), while the name also identifies a common species of the African guinea fowl (Numida meleagris).

Talking Turkey

As for the Turkish? They call the bird hindi. It means “Indian,” and is probably from the French poulet d’inde, or “chicken from India.” Lest we forget, those European explorers–um, conquerors and colonists–did think the New World was Asia. Hence, the West Indies. Hindi and Indian? Yes, they are related. 

And as for Turkey? Turkey is named for the Turks. Romans in the Middle Ages called it Turcus and the Greeks, Tourkos. These come from the Persian national name turk, which folklore glosses as “strength,” but can mean “beautiful youth,” “barbarian,” or “robber.” There is an early Chinese word, tu-kin, referring to a people in the mountains of east-central Asia, who may be connected to ancient ancestors of the Turks.

None of this may be turkey shoot, except for cold turkeyCold turkey–suddenly and completely withdrawing from drugs, originally heroin (and later chocolate), including the intense symptoms therein–is attested in 1910, 1921, or 1936, depending on your source. Thanksgiving leftovers testify that cold turkey requires very little work, thus the original sense of “without preparation.” A cold shoulder (of mutton) is related, “considered a poor man’s dish and thus, perhaps, something one would set out for an unwanted guest with deliberate intention to convey displeasure,” the Online Etymology Dictionary delightfully observes. But let’s not leave our Canadian friends out, where Parson notes cold turkey refers to door-to-door selling or salesmen, perhaps for the same low-prep reasons. 

As for “talking turkey,” Parson defines it as talking “business” or “sense,” with turkey standing for “the substantial and succulent part of a (Christmas) dinner.”

Oh, and that thing dangling from the turkey’s neck? That’s called a wattle. It’s a fleshy caruncle. Birds (and other animals) also have dewlaps and snoods. Apparently, when we named the anatomy of birds, Linnaeus left the room and Dr. Suess took his place. Folds of skin: bon appetit, right?

Whatever’s on your table and whatever you are celebrating this week, enjoy your holiday, give thanks, be safe, and, by all means, avoid fleshy caruncles.

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citrus, part II

Fast Mash

  • Orange enters English in the 14th-c. from the French orenge (pomme d’orenge) via Spanish naranja, Portuguese laranja, Italian narancia
  • The Romance forms of orange ultimately go back to Arabic naranj, Persian narang, Sanskrit naranga; may be rooted in Tamil (South India) naru, for fragrant
  • Also growing in bunches, grapefruit is indebted to grape, from French graper (gather), from Germanic root *krappon (hook, used to so gather)

Last February, my fiancée and I travelled to Istanbul. Winding through its dense and storied streets, we stopped often to sample foods from street vendors and stalls, such as the savory pastry of börek, sesame-ringed simit, or cups of golden-hued çay, the tea steaming from its tulip-shaped glass.

On one afternoon outing, after my wanderings led us—yet again—through that bustling center of Old Istanbul, the Grand Bazaar, we took a seat a tiny table at a tinier stall just at the market’s perimeter. For refreshment, I stuck with çay, happily substituting my coffee addiction with Turkey’s go-to beverage. (No native is really Turkish coffee in Istanbul.) My fiancée, however, went for something new: freshly squeeze pomegranate juice.

In my traveller’s Turkish, always received warmly, I ordered: “Lütfen bir çay ve bir nar istiyorum.” Literally, please one tea and one pomegranate (juice) I would like.

Turkish is what is called an agglutinative language. That means it forms complex words by “gluing together” individual morphemes. And a morpheme is the smallest grammatical unit in a language.

So, in English, cats has two morphemes: cat and s, which marks the plural. Other languages like Turkish glue a lot more morphemes together than English does. Take istiyorum: in one word, it combines morphemes for verb tense, aspect, person, and number to communicate “I want,” “I am wanting,” or “I would like.”

If I wanted to negate that statement in English, I would say, “I do not want.” I need two new morphemes, in this case two whole words, and I place them in the right order in the expression. But a Turkish person would add a morpheme right smack dab in the middle of the whole word: istemiyorum. It gets really complicated, really fast. And it’s a totally different way of doings things. Cool, right?

Anyways, it’s the Turkish nouns in my drink order that interest me here. Yes, the Turkish çay is related to chai, pronounced the same and ultimately from the Chinese. But I didn’t expect that nar would be related to orange. Though thousands of miles away, with the humble nar I was in fact much closer to home than imagined.

Orange

As lexicographer Eric Partridge put its, “The descent of orange is long, yet clear.” Well, “clear” is his opinion.

In the 14th-century, Middle English picks up orange (and at some point the fruit itself?) from the French orenge (now orange). The French occurred in the phrase pomme d’orenge, taken from a similar Medieval Latin construction. French picked up pomme from Latin’s pomus, which meant fruit and later apple. (Cf. the Dutch oranjeappel and the Scots appil orange.  Also consider French’s pomme de terre, earth-apple, for potato.)

The Latin was taken from the Italian narancia (now arancia), and the form of the word travelled like all the sailors who brought the fruit over from Asia.

Here is a study in some orange (cognates):

  • Provençal, auranja
  • Catalan, taronja
  • Spanish, naranja
  • Portuguese, laranja
  • Italian, narancia/arancia/melarancia
  • Rumanian, naranta
  • Greek, nerantzi

The Spanish naranja seems to be the point of diffusion from orange’s oldest crop: the Arabic naranj, Persian narang, and the Sanskrit naranga (orange tree).

The Sanskrit, in turn, is probably related to terms in two of that subcontinent’s hundreds of other tongues: Tamil’s naram/naru (which Partridge glosses as fragrant) and Tulu’s narengi. It’s not every day one gets to talk about Tamil or Tulu. Both are the in the Dravidian family, a non-Indo-European language primarily spoken in Southern India and Northern Sri Lanka.

At this point, you’re probably seeing nar as a common thread. In Persian, nar named the pomegranate, which fruit and term spread to the Turkic peoples. Hence, a freshly squeezed cup of nar in Istanbul. It was delicious, too.

So, what happened to the and the in English’s orange?

The o- may have been influenced by the southern French city of Orange (later tied up in Dutch royalty and Irish Protestantism). Or or, the French for gold, due to the fruit’s color, from the Latin aurum.

And the n? Perhaps due to something called misdivision, or metanalysis, which happens when words are broken down at the wrong boundary. A few examples illustrate:

  • An apron? Originally, a napron.
  • A newt? An ewte.
  • Nickname? First, an eke name, with eke meaning also or additional.
  • An umpire? More like a noumpre (from French for odd number).
  • And how about one where there is no definite article (a, an)? Tawdry originally comes from St. Audry’s lace.

At some point, the definite articles—as in un naranja, une narange, or una narancia— could have promoted the loss of the initial n. Say them out loud and it’s easy to be convinced.

And here’s just a little more zest in the life of orange from the Online Etymology Dictionary:

The tree’s original range probably was northern India. The Persian orange, grown widely in southern Europe after its introduction in Italy 11c., was bitter; sweet oranges were brought to Europe 15c. from India by Portuguese traders and quickly displaced the bitter variety, but only Modern Greek still seems to distinguish the bitter (nerantzi) from the sweet (portokali “Portuguese”) orange. Portuguese, Spanish, Arab, and Dutch sailors planted citrus trees along trade routes to prevent scurvy. On his second voyage in 1493, Christopher Columbus brought the seeds of oranges, lemons and citrons to Haiti and the Caribbean. Introduced in Florida (along with lemons) in 1513 by Spanish explorer Juan Ponce de Leon. Introduced to Hawaii 1792.

How do you like them apple-oranges?

Grapefruit

I like grapefruit. No sugar, too. I buy it. Always pumped for a healthy, colorful, and tart start to the day. But I never get around to it. The apples and bananas are the first to go. Then oranges. Then the pitted fruits and berries. My fruit bowl is left not-so-empty with a grapefruit or two.

As Socrates surely implied, the unreflected grapefruit is not worth eating. So, what is up with the grape in grapefruit, anyways? And what, if anything, do grapes and grapefruit have in common?

Their etymology, that’s what. Grapefruit, called so in 1814 and cousin to the shaddock or pomelo, grows, apparently, like grapes, in bunches and clusters. The Old French grape, referring both the bunch and the individual grape berries, was most likely formed on graper, which meant gather, seize, or catch with a hook. This verb, in turn, probably comes from the Germanic root *krappon, meaning hook. Cramp and crampon are related, as is grapple, which perfectly describes my relationship to the fruit. The tool came to name the action, and the action came to name the result.

Who says you can’t compare apples and oranges—and grapefruits and grapes?

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