Saturday, September 29, 2018

Spices and herbs, Part 13: Eng. chives and Sp. cebollino

[This entry is an excerpt from the chapter "Spices, herbs, and other condiments" of Part II of the open-source textbook Spanish-English Cognates: An Unconventional Introduction to Spanish Linguistics.]

Go to the listing of entries on spices, herbs and other condiments

Eng. chives and Sp. cebollino and related plants

The name chives refers to ‘a small plant related to the onion, with long tubular leaves used as a culinary herb’ (COED). This plant, known as cebollino in Spanish, is a perennial plant with hollow cylindrical leaves used for seasoning and found in much of Europe, Asia and North America. The botanical name of the chives plant is Allium schoenoprasum. Allium is the botanic name of the genus to which the onion, garlic, scallion, shallot, leek, and chives belong. Curiously, it is the only species that is native to the ‘Old World’ (Europe and Asia) and the ‘New World’ (North America).

The genus name Allium comes from the Latin word allĭum that meant ‘garlic’ and which is the word from which the patrimonial Spanish word ajo ‘garlic’ descends from. The second part of the species name, schoenoprasum, was created by putting together two words that come ultimately from Ancient Greek. The first one, Lat. schoenus ‘kind of aromatic reed’, comes from A. Greek σχοῖνος (skhoínos) ‘sedge, rush rope, or reed’. The second one is the New Latin word prasum derived from Gk. πράσον (práson) ‘leek’ (equivalent but unrelated to Lat. porrum ‘leek’, source of Sp. puerro ‘leek’).

Figure 180: (left) chives and onion compared (Allium schoenoprasum and Allium cepa).
Right: A clump of chives (Allium schoenoprasum), flowering in New Hampshire. [i]

The English word chives [ˈʧʰaɪ̯vz] is a plural form of chive, though the word is typically used in the plural, since this plant is usually handled in bunches. The word chive is derived from the Old French word cive, a patrimonial descendant in this language of Lat. cēpa or caepa ‘onion’, cf. Modern Fr. cive [ˈsiv] or civette [si.ˈvɛt]. A diminutive of this Latin word, cēpŭlla or caepŭlla, formed with the variant ‑ŭl‑ of the Latin diminutive suffix ‑ŭl‑, is the source of the patrimonial Spanish word cebolla ‘onion’ (cēp‑ŭll‑a). (Note that Lat. cēpŭlla could also be used as an alternative name for caepīna or cēpīna ‘a field or bed of onions’.)

The main Spanish name for chives is cebollino, a diminutive of the word cebolla ‘onion’ that we just saw, formed with the diminutive suffix ‑in‑. The diminutive suffix ‑in‑ is uncommon in Standard Spanish, which descends from Spanish Castilian Romance, but it is common in the region of Asturias, Leon, and Extremadura in Spain. However, in this dialect, the masculine form does not typically take the masculine inflection ‑o anymore.[1] Note also that the noun cebollino is masculine, whereas cebolla is feminine. It is interesting too that cebollino ‘chives’ is a diminutive of cebolla ‘onion’, in the same way that the word cebolla is itself a diminutive of the word for ‘onion’ in Latin, since it comes from Lat. cēpŭlla, a diminutive of cēpa (see above).

According to some English-Spanish dictionaries, another name for ‘chives’ in Spanish is cebolleta, a word that is also derived from Sp. cebolla ‘onion’ and also a diminutive, one formed with the also rare diminutive suffix ‑et‑, typically associated with Occitan, Catalan, and French loanwords.

Although some people seem to use the word cebolleta for chives, experts tell us that this word should be reserved for a similar-looking plant that people often confuse with chives. This other plant that cebolleta refers to is popularly known in English as green onions, spring onions, salad onions, or even in some places as scallions. Its botanical name is Allium fistulosum and it is a long, green and floppy plant with a small and elongated white bulb. The word cebolleta, however, is also used to refer to regular onions [Allium cepa] harvested early to be eaten raw, which is also known as cebolla tierna, ‘lit. tender/young onion’. This is particularly the case in Spain, where the true Allium fistulosum plant is rare. In English too, the words green onions, spring onions, and salad onions can refer to such types of the regular onion.

Figure 181: Allium fistulosum.[ii]

Other names for Allium fistulosum in English are Welsh onion, bunching onion, long green onion, Japanese bunching onion, and spring onion, though some of these names are ambiguous for they can also be used to refer to any young green onion stalk from this same genus. That is because this species is very close to the regular onion, Allium cepa, which is very similar in taste and smell, and the two species can be easily hybridized. However, Allium fistulosum does not develop bulbs and its leaves are hollow. Also, there are many different varieties of Allium fistulosum, which makes determining the type difficult for the uninitiated. The large number of varieties also explains why there is so much confusion about names. In Spanish too, the species Allium fistulosum goes by a variety of names in different countries. In addition to cebolleta, it is also called cebolla de verdeo (Argentina, Uruguay), cebollita de verdeo (Paraguay), cebolla larga, cebolla junca, cebolla blanca, cebolla de rama or cebolla verde (Colombia, Ecuador), cebollín or cebolla cambray (El Salvador, México, Bolivia, Chile, Colombia, Venezuela), cebollina (Panamá, Costa Rica, Honduras), and cebolla china (Perú).[iii]

By the way, the word cebollino can also have more than one sense. Thus, as we saw, in botany, it can be used to refer to chives (Allium schoenoprasum), but also to an onion seed about to be planted. And in agriculture, cebollino is the name for the grain sack where onion seeds are kept (Sp. sementero). Note that cebollino is also used in Spain to refer to a clumsy or dumb person, though that use may be a bit dated.

As for the origin of the botanical name Allium fistulosum, the fistulosum part of this species of plant comes from the neuter wordform of the Latin adjective fistŭlōsus, which meant ‘pipe-shaped, full of holes, porous’ (L&S), cf. Eng. fistulous and Sp. fistuloso/a, also meaning ‘tubular and hollow, as the leaves of a scallion’ (AHD) (fistŭl‑ōs‑us). This adjective is derived from Lat. fistŭla, which meant ‘a pipe’, ‘a hollow reed-stalk, a reed, cane’, etc.[2]

We mentioned that some use the name scallion for at least some varieties of Allium fistulosum. The English word scallion for the plant Allium fistulosum is used chiefly in North America, not elsewhere in the English-speaking world. In addition, the name scallion is not used only for the species Allium fistulosum, however, but also for other related species and varieties (cultivars).

Actually, different sources differ as to what things they claim the word scallion represents. The OED seems to be on the right track when it tells us that the word scallion is used to refer to three things: (1) in the US, the shallot, i.e. the plant Allium ascalonicum (see below); (2) the Welsh onion or ‘chibol’, that is, Allium fistulosum; and (3) the spring onion, namely ‘an onion which fails to bulb but forms a long neck and strong blade’ (in other words, young, early picked regular onions). This third sense refers to young varieties of Allium cepa (regular onion), that is those harvested before a bulb forms or even right after bulbing has started. Some varieties of onion that are typically harvested early include White Lisbon, White Lisbon Winter Hardy, and Calçot. Other species that are sometimes called scallion in English include Allium chinense and Allium × proliferum (also known as tree onion, topsetting onion, walking onion, or Egyptian onion). According to American dictionaries, such as AHD, MWC and RHWU, in addition to a young onion, a scallion is also ‘any of several onion-like plants, such as the leek or shallot’ (AHD).

As for the source name scallion [ˈskæ.ljən], typically used in the plural form scallions, it is a late 15th century loanword from Old North French escalogne, which comes from Vulgar Latin *escalonia, from Lat. ascalonia, a clipping of the phrase cæpa ascalonia ‘onion from Ascalon’, which was a coastal city in ancient Palestine (modern Ashkelon in Israel). The word scallion is cognate with the word shallot, which was borrowed from a different dialect of French and in the mid-17th century. Eng. shallot comes from French échalote, from Middle French eschalote (cf. 1500), from Old French eschalogne or eschalone (13th century), from the same Vulgar Latin *escalonia.  

As for the word spelled shallot or shalot, both pronounced [ʃə.ˈlɒt] or [ʃəˈlɑt], dictionaries also differ as to what it represents (the spelling shallot is more common, although it misrepresents its normal pronunciation with word-final stress). According to the OED, it is the name of ‘a small onion, Allium ascalonicum, native in Syria and cultivated for use as a flavoring ingredient for salads, sauces, etc.’. A more recent botanical name for this plant is Allium cepa variety aggregatum. In other words, it is not classified as a separate species anymore (Allium ascalonicum) but rather as a variety of the regular onion species (Allium cepa). This variety reproduces primarily by division, with a single plant forming an aggregate cluster of bulbs which are smaller than those of regular onions, coming out of a single master (much like garlic does). This plant is also known as aggregatum onion and gumbo onion.

If one looks in English-Spanish dictionaries, we find that the word scallion has two meanings. It can be translated in two different ways according to the sense meant: (1) cebolleta ‘spring onion’, but also, according to some dictionaries, cebollino, cebolla de verdeo (Río de la Plata), or cebollín (Chile), due to the confusion mentioned earlier; or (2) the plant known as shallot in North America, which in Spanish is primarily chalote or chalota, as we are about to see.

If we look for the word shallot in English-Spanish dictionaries, we find that some say that the Spanish word is (feminine) chalota, though other dictionaries, such as the OSD, also give an alternate chalote as an alternative, which the DLE tells us can be either masculine or feminine. The source of chalote is obviously French échalotte, the source of Eng. shallot. Since French échalotte is feminine but words in ‑ote in Spanish are typically masculine, it is not surprising that Spanish ended up with two versions of this word, confused about its gender and ending. The DLE gives two other alternatives for this name: ajo chalote and ajo de ascalonia (note the word ajo ‘garlic’ in these names, as opposed to cebolla ‘onion’). Other names that have been used in Spanish are escalonia, ascalonia, escaluña, and cebolla escalonia.

Figure 182: Allium tuberosum.[iv]

There is another plant that whose English name contains the word chives, namely garlic chives, which is another species of the same genus Allium: Allium tuberosum. This plant comes from northern Asia from where it has spread to other parts of Asia and beyond. It is also known in English as Chinese chives, Oriental garlic, Chinese leek, or jiu cai. The most common name in Spanish is perhaps cebollín chino (but see below). It is a tough and fibrous perennial plant that grows from a small, elongated bulb. The plant is widely used in Asian cuisine as a condiment.

The Chinese name for garlic chives is written 韭菜 and it has various pronunciations in different Chinese languages and dialects (cf. Part I, Chapter 2, §2.3.4), though the standard Romanization is kíu chhoi. it is also grown in northeastern India, where the name it goes by is maroi nakuppi, a name one sometimes finds for this plant in the West as well. In Japan, it is known as (nira) and in Korea as 부추 (buchu). To the extent that this plant is used in the Spanish-speaking world, it is sometimes called by adaptations of its Chinese and Japanese names, kow choi and nirá, respectively. If garlic or Chinese chives are grown without light, a variety known as Chinese yellow chives results, so-called because of their color. They are also more delicate in texture and flavor.

As for the source of the second part of the botanical name Allium tuberosum, we find that it comes from the neuter form of the rare Latin adjective tūbĕrōsus, which meant ‘full of humps, lumps, or protuberances’ (L&S). This adjective was derived from the noun tūber (genitive: tūbĕris) that meant ‘a hump, bump, swelling, tumor, protuberance on animal bodies, whether natural or caused by disease’ (L&S).[3]

In summary, we have spoken in this section about the names of several species of plant that can be used as herbs, though at least some can also be classified as vegetables. The following chart summarizes the main names for the different plants that we have discussed:

Species name
Allium cepa
Allium schoenoprasum
cebollino, cebolleta, ...
Allium cepa
(early harvested)
green onion, scallion, …
cebolleta, cebolla tierna, …
Alium fistulosum
spring onion, scallion, …
cebolleta, cebolla de verdeo, …
Allium cepa variety aggregatum
(Allium ascalonicum)
shallot, scallion
chalota/e, escalonia, …
Allium tuberosum
garlic chives
cebollín chino, kow choi, nirá, ...

[1] Thus, in this dialect, pelín is the equivalent of standard Spanish pelito ‘little hair’ and cosina is equivalent to standard cosita. The words pequeñín and pequeñina ‘tiny’and tontín and tontina ‘silly’ are commonly heard all over Spain.

[2] Lat. fistŭlōsus could also mean ‘having fistulas, fistulous’, i.e. a cancer or long narrow ulcer. Eng. fistulous and Sp. fistuloso/a can also mean ‘of or resembling a fistula’ (AHD). The English word fistula and its Spanish cognate fístula refer in medicine to an abnormal connection between two organs or physiological structures, such as between the rectum and the vagina, the intestine and skin intestine and the bladder, and the skin and the anus. As we just saw, Lat. fistŭlōsus comes from Lat. fistŭla, which meant ‘a pipe, tube, e. g. a water-pipe’, ‘a hollow reed-stalk, a reed, cane’, ‘a hollow reed-stalk, a reed, cane’, ‘catheter’, and, finally, ‘a sort of ulcer, a fistula’. This noun is derived from the verb findĕre ‘to cleave, split, part, separate, divide’ (findo, findĕre, fĭdi, fissum). Note that from the stemp fiss‑ of the supine form of this verb come the words Eng. fisure and Sp. fisura.

[3] In botany, Eng. tuber refers to ‘a round swollen part on the stem of some plants, such as the potato, that grows below the ground and from which new plants grow’ (DOCE). This translates into Spanish as tubérculo, a 19th century loanword from Lat. tūbercŭlum, a diminutive of the word tūber. English has a cognate of Sp. tubérculo, namely tubercle, which also translates as tubérculo in Spanish. In anatomy, zoology and botany, tubercle means ‘a small rounded projection or protuberance, especially on a bone or on the surface of an animal or plant’. In medicine, on the other hand, it means ‘a small nodular lesion in the lungs or other tissues, characteristic of tuberculosis’ (COED). Hence this is the source of the name of the disease tuberculosis (same in English and Spanish). This disease was known traditionally as consumption in English and tisis in Spanish. Eng. consumption comes from the radical weight loss associated with the disease. Another common name in English is TB, which stands for tubercle bacillus. Sp. tisis comes from from Lat. phthisis, itself from Gk. φθ́σς (phthísis), which literally meant ‘decline, decay, wasting away, atrophy’, but which was used to name the disease as well.

[i] Sources: “Illustration Allium schoenoprasum0 clean” by Prof. Dr. Otto Wilhelm Thomé - Original book source: Prof. Otto Wilhelm Thomé; Flora von Deutschland, Österreich und der Schweiz. 1885, Gera, Germany Source: Licensed under Public Domain via Wikimedia Commons -; “Allium schoenoprasum in NH 01” by Captain-tucker - Own work. Licensed under CC BY-SA 3.0 via Wikimedia Commons -
[iv] Source: By KENPEI - KENPEI's photo, CC BY-SA 3.0, (2018.09.29)

Thursday, September 27, 2018

Spices and herbs, Part 12: chili powder/paprika and Sp. pimentón/paprika

[This entry is an excerpt from the chapter "Spices, herbs, and other condiments" of Part II of the open-source textbook Spanish-English Cognates: An Unconventional Introduction to Spanish Linguistics.]

Go to the listing of entries on spices, herbs and other condiments

Eng. chili powder/paprika and Sp. pimentón/paprika

In the preceding section on chili peppers we mentioned paprika, which is a powder made from dried chilies of different varieties of primarily the species Capsicum annuum. The used of ground and powdered chilies has a long tradition and it is used in many different cuisines, from Chinese and Korean, to Tex-Mex, Mexican, and Spanish (from Spain). We are going to look primarily at three types of powders made from chilies: cayenne pepper, commercial chili powder, and paprika.

In North America, cayenne peppers can be used whole or ground into cayenne powder (Sp. cayena en polvo), which is sold by the name cayenne pepper (Sp. pimiento cayena). Sometimes the seeds are also ground along with the flesh of the pepper. Cayenne pepper is the strongest of the powdered chilies. Since it deteriorates quickly after being ground, it should be bought in small quantities and it should be kept in a dark container, away from sunlight.

What is sold as commercial chili powder in North America, on the other hand, consists of powdered chili (Sp. chile en polvo), often mixed with other spices, such as cumin, onion, oregano, garlic powder, and salt. This chili powder is also ground coarser than plain cayenne pepper mix and it is not as strong. Different varieties of chili are used to make chili powder, the main ones being cayenne, chipotle, chile de árbol (lit. ‘tree chili’, also known as bird’s beak chile and rat’s tail chile), Cheongyang, jalapeño, New Mexico chili (Sp. chile de Nuevo México or chile del norte), pasilla chile or chile negro (dried form of chilaca chili pepper), and piri piri chili peppers (WP).

Other ground pepper types may also be found in specialized stores, particularly online. One online store, for example offers the following options for ground pepper: ground Aleppo Pepper, ground ancho chili, ground chipotle chili, ground jalapeño chili. Also available are chili powder mixes other than the standard commercial one, such as Berbere (Ethiopian spice blend).[i]

A popular type of ground chili goes by the name of paprika, pronounced [pə.ˈpʰɹi.kə], but also [ˈpʰæ.pɹɪ.kə] in some varieties of British English. This is a Hungarian word that entered English in the 19th century along with the spice. It is actually a diminutive Serbo-Croatian word derived from the word for ‘pepper’, namely papar, which just like the English word, ultimately comes from Latin pĭper (see above), which was not the name for peppers in Latin but for peppercorn pepper (see §47.3.22 below). As we can see, the naming analogy that the Spanish started between black pepper and chilies when they encountered the latter (pimienta-pimiento) was extended to other European languages, not just English. The Spanish word pimienta now is primarily used for black pepper, but it has traditionally been used for spicy chili powder as well. (Pimiento on the other hand would be the generic word for chili in Spain.) Paprika became very popular in Hungary by the end of the 18th century, the chili plants having been introduced only in the 16th century from the then Ottoman Balkans.

Figure 177: Spanish paprika (Sp. pimentón)[ii]

Paprika can be made from a variety of chilies, in particular sweet red tomato peppers. It may contain other spices besides powdered chili, however, including the powder of hot chile, which is why there are two major varieties of paprika: hot and sweet (not hot). Sweet paprika is made with the flesh of the chile (pericarp) and most seeds removed, whereas hot paprika is made with more seeds and other parts of the plant and other spicier types of peppers, such as cayenne. There are several varieties of paprika in Hungary, at least nine of them, from the most common, noble sweet (Édesnemes), which is slightly pungent, to the hottest variety (erős). Paprika is used in goulash, for example, which is the Hungarian national dish.

In Spain, the equivalent of paprika is pimentón, where it is an important ingredient of many dishes since powder chili was introduced in the 16th century. The word pimentón is derived from pimiento, of which it is an augmentative (the e ~ ie alternation in Spanish phonology is due to stress, cf. Part I, Chapter 7 and Chapter 10).  Chilies used to make pimentón are smoked first with burning wood. In some parts of Spanish America such as Venezuela, however, the word pimentón refers to fresh sweet peppers. To the extent that Spanish paprika is known in this continent, it is usually called pimentón de España.

As with paprika, there are two main types of pimentón used in Spain’s cuisine: pimentón dulce, literally ‘sweet paprika’, which is not hot/spicy, and pimentón picante, which is hot/spicy. There is a third semi-hot variety known as pimentón agridulce or ocal. Pimentón is an important ingredient of many Spanish dishes (from Spain), such as patatas a la riojana ‘Rioja potatoes’, pulpo a la gallega ‘Galician octopus’, sobrasada ‘spicy Majorcan pork sausage’, chorizo, a highly-seasoned pork sausage, and other types of processed cold meats or cold cuts (Sp. embutidos).

Figure 179: Chorizo picante de San Andrés del Rabanedo[iii]

Powdered chilies are also used in some of the many, varied Spanish-American cuisines. In South America, it is mostly known as ají molido (‘ground chili’). Other names such as ají de color, ají panca, and even páprika or paprika, a term Spanish has borrowed from Hungarian, just like English has. Although this word is should only presumably be used for the Hungarian varieties (pimentón húngaro), it is a common term for all types of ground chili in Spanish America, probably under the influence of English.[1] Do note, however, that the word paprika in Spanish did not appear in the DRAE until 1985. The word has become much more common since the turn of the millennium.

Figure 178: Different types of chili powder for sale in a market in Bolivia[iv]

[1] The Diccionario panhispánico de dudas has the following entry: páprika o paprika. La voz húngara paprika (‘pimiento rojo que, reducido a polvo, se usa como condimento’) se emplea en español con dos acentuaciones, ambas válidas. La forma esdrújula páprika refleja la pronunciación etimológica y es la preferida en el uso culto... Pero está también muy extendida la pronunciación llana [papríka], a la que corresponde la grafía sin tilde paprika… Aunque su equivalente en español es pimentón, es lícito emplear este extranjerismo para designar el condimento originario de Hungría.

[ii] Source: “Spanishsmokedpaprika” by Badagnani - Own work. Licensed under CC BY 3.0 via Wikimedia Commons -
[iii] Source: De Valdavia - Trabajo propio, CC BY-SA 3.0, (obtained: 2017.08.27)
[iv] Source: By User JoeCarrasco on en.wikipedia - JoeCarrasco has confirmed by e-mail that he has taken this image himself and that he licenses it under the GFDL. Lupo 20:33, 24 Feb 2005 (UTC), CC BY-SA 3.0, (obtained: 2017.08.27)

Tuesday, September 25, 2018

Spices and herbs, Part 11: Eng. celery and Sp. apio

[This entry is an excerpt from the chapter "Spices, herbs, and other condiments" of Part II of the open-source textbook Spanish-English Cognates: An Unconventional Introduction to Spanish Linguistics.]

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Eng. celery and Sp. apio

The plant known as celery in English and apio in Spanish is a member of the Apiaceae family of Eurasian origin and which grows abundantly in the Mediterranean region. Its botanical name is Apium graveolens, a single species with several varieties. Although it is typically used as a vegetable, celery seeds can be used as a spice and the leaves of the plant as an herb.

Celery did not become a vegetable for human consumption until the 16th century, when certain varieties started to be used as food, at least in the West, with most improvements in its cultivation happening at the end of the 18th century. Before that, wild celery had been used by ancient cultures, such as the Romans and the Egyptians, only for ornamentation, medicinal properties, and to a lesser extent as a condiment for flavoring dishes. Celery is rich in minerals and vitamins and essential oils that give it a characteristic aroma. Celery was considered to be an aphrodisiac by ancient Romans and Greeks. Some still think it is due to the fact that celery stimulates the pituitary gland, which releases sex hormones.

Nowadays there are three major varieties or cultivars of this species, in addition to wild celery (Sp. apio silvestre). The variety that most people are familiar with in North America is the Pascal or dulce variety, with the botanical names Apium graveolens var. graveolens or Apium graveolens var. dulce (‘Giant Pascal’). This variety was ‘discovered’ by Henri Pascal in Nimes, France, around 1884 and exported to the United States, where it became quite popular. It is used in salads, for instance, with the stalks being typically the only part that is eaten, especially in the United States. A common Spanish name for this variety is apio de pencas. (The uncommon word penca means ‘stalk’, among other things; the more common word for ‘stalk’ is tallo.)

The dominant variety of celery used in Europe, on the other hand, is the celeriac variety, also known as celery root or knob celery in English and  apio nabo in Spanish. (By itself, the word nabo means ‘turnip’.) The botanical name of this variety is Apium graveolens variety rapaceum. (In New Latin, rapaceum means ‘turnip-like’, a word derived from Lat. rāpum ‘turnip, rape’.)[1] The main parts of this variety used in cooking are its bulbous root and the leaves, which are used as an herb for seasoning. The stalks, however, which are much thinner than those of the Pascal variety, are typically discarded. This variety is especially common in northern Europe.

Figure 169: Celery: Pascal and celeriac varieties.[i]

The word celery [ˈsɛ.lə.ɹi] entered English in the 17th century. It is a loanword from French céleri, which itself is a borrowing from dialectal Italian selleri, the plural of sellero, a name derived from the Late Latin name selinon for this plant, which was a borrowing from Greek σέλινον (selinon), a word meaning primarily ‘parsley’. In modern standard Italian, the word for ‘celery’ is sedano, which is supposedly a corruption of Greek σέλινον (sélinon). In the Brescian dialect of Italian, the name is seleno, which is closer to the original Greek word.

The name for this plant in Spanish is apio [ˈa.pi̯o], which is obviously related to the genus name of this plant Apium. The name apio, as well as the New Latin genus name, comes from the name this plant had in Latin, namely ăpĭum (genitive: ăpĭī), a word that meant both ‘parsley’ (Sp. perejil) and ‘celery’, since these plants were at the time seen as very similar, if not equivalent. Sp. apio is obviously a loanword since the intervocalic Latin p has not changed to b. The first documentation of this word in Spanish is from the 15th century. The Latin word ăpĭum is derived from apis ‘bee’, for the Romans thought bees were attracted to these plants. The Spanish word for ‘bee’ is the patrimonial abeja, which descends from the diminutive of the word apis, namely apĭcŭla.

The second part of the celery species name is graveolens, a Latin word that meant ‘strong smelling’, in the sense of ‘foul smelling’ (Sp. maloliente), which might seem an odd choice for the name of this plant. The Latin word grăvĕŏlens is actually derived from the phrase grăvĕ ŏlens, where grăvĕ is an adverb meaning ‘strongly, rankly’ in this context (it is derived from the adjective grăvis ‘heavy, deep, etc.’) and ŏlens is an adjective meaning ‘smelling’ or, more specifically, the present participle of the verb ŏlĕre ‘to emit a smell’, source of Sp. oler, which means ‘to smell’ (both ‘emit a smell’ or ‘perceive a smell’, like in English).

Finally, a third variety that is common around the world is leaf celery, also known as cutting celery and Chinese celery (Apium graveolens var. secalinum). This cultivar is grown in East Asia, where it grows in marshlands. Only the leaves of this variety are used, which are used as an herb in China and in Europe, mostly to give flavor to soups and stews. Leaf celery is close to wild celery and thus it is similar to parsley. (Remember that the Romans called both parsley and wild celery by the same name.) Popular names for this variety in Spanish are apio de hoja and apio de corte, cf. Eng. leaf celery and cutting celery, respectively.

Just like the leaves of leaf celery (and in some cases those of other varieties as well) are used as an herb, celery seeds are sometimes used as a spice. The taste and aroma of the celery seed is similar to that of the plant, though much stronger and intense and quite bitter. These seeds have been described as having a ‘harsh, penetrating, spicy aroma and a warm bitter taste that leaves a burning sensation’.[ii] Celery seeds are used, for instance, in Cajun and creole cooking, along with mustard seed, bay leaf and thyme, giving their dishes a distinctive flavor. They are also used in Worcestershire sauce and pickling solutions. Celery seeds are very small and they are sold whole, slightly crushed, or ground (if not whole, they tend to lose their flavor quite fast).

[1] Spanish has a patrimonial descendant of Lat. rāpum, namely rabo. This word, however, has come to mean ‘tail’,  as well as, in slang, ‘penis’. In some Spanish-speaking countries, rabo is slang for ‘buttocks’, however. The Spanish word nabo is a patrimonial descendant of Lat. nāpus, which meant ‘radish’.

[i] Sources: (left) “Céleri”. Licensed under CC BY-SA 3.0 via Wikimedia Commons:; (right) Celeriac in a vegetable garden in Belgium:  
[ii] Source: Handbook of Spices, Seasonings, and Flavorings, Second Edition By Susheela Raghavan, Boca Raton : CRC Press, 2007, p. 83.

Monday, September 24, 2018

Spices and herbs, Part 10: Eng. caper and Sp. alcaparra

[This entry is an excerpt from the chapter "Spices, herbs, and other condiments" of Part II of the open-source textbook Spanish-English Cognates: An Unconventional Introduction to Spanish Linguistics.]

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Eng. caper and Sp. alcaparra

Caper is the name of ‘a cooked and pickled flower bud of a bramble-like southern European shrub, used in pickles and sauces’, as well as of ‘the shrub from which capers are taken’ (COED). The plant, which is native to the Mediterranean region, is also known as caper bush or Flinders rose. Its botanical name is Capparis spinosa, a member of the Capparaceae family, whose taxonomic status is controversial.[1] Both the plant’s flower budsthe capersand the plant’s fruitthe caper berriesare consumed, both typically pickled in a salt or salt and vinegar solution. The flower buds are used as seasoning or garnish.

Figure 167: Caper leaves and flower buds.[i]

The English word caper [ˈkʰeɪ̯.pəɹ] comes from Latin cappăris (the genitive is also cappăris), which was the name of both the caper bush and its fruit, the caper. As we can see, this Latin word has given the name to the genus Capparis in botanical New Latin. This Latin word was a loanword from Ancient Greek κάππαρις (kápparis). The word came into English around the turn of the 15th century, presumably from Latin. The French equivalent is câpre (originally caspres), which is supposedly a late 15th century loanword from Italian cappero.

Figure 168: Fruit and seed of ripe Capparis spinosa[ii]

The Spanish name for the caper berry and the caper bush is alcaparra [al.ka.ˈpa.ra]. This word is obviously related to Lat. capparis, but it came into Spanish with Arabic as the intermediary, since it comes from Andalusian Arabic الكبر (alkappárra), as can be seen by the tell-tale initial al‑ found in many words of Arabic origin in Spanish. The word for ‘caper’ in modern-day Arabic (without the article) is an obviously related word, which comes in several variants, such as كَبَر (kabar), كَبَّار (kabbār), and قَبَّار (qabbār). It is not clear where Arabic got the word from. It is possible that Arabic too got it from Greek or, more likely, that both Arabic and Greek got it from some other language in the eastern Mediterranean region in ancient times.

Capers are typical of Italian cuisine, in particular southern Italian and Sicilian cuisine. They are used in salads, pasta salads, meat dishes, and pasta sauces (Wp). Capers are also often used in tartar sauce (spelled tartare sauce in the UK), which is ‘a thick cold white sauce made from mayonnaise, chopped onions and capers, usually eaten with fish’ (OALD). Not all versions of tartar sauce have capers or the same ingredients for that matter, however, but in the United States, tartar sauce typically has ‘chopped pickles or prepared green sweet relish, capers, onions (or chives), and fresh parsley’, as well as hard-boiled eggs and olives (Wp). This sauce was named in France in the 19th century after the Tatars (Sp. tártaros), a Turkic people living today mostly in Tatarstan, a republic of the Russian Federation. English got the name of the sauce from French sauce tartare, since the sauce is said to have originated in France, though its antecedents are not known. The name for this type of sauce is attested only since the 19th century (mayonnaise itself was not invented until the 18th century.) However, there doesn’t seem to be any connection between the sauce and the Tatar people and thus, the name of this sauce is a misnomer. The name probably came about because this sauce often accompanies deep-fried breaded dishes of the type common in Eastern Europe and because it was common in Europe at the time to confuse the Tartar people with the Huns, who invaded Europe in the 4th and 5th centuries from the east and who supposedly left behind some influence on Eastern European cuisine.

As in the case of bay (see above), there is more than one word caper in English that are unrelated and, thus, homonyms. Besides the caper we just saw that names the condiment, there is a second noun caper means ‘a playful leap or hop’ or ‘a frivolous escapade or prank’ (AHD). The OED defines its main meaning as ‘a frolicsome leap, like that of a playful kid; a frisky movement, esp. in dancing; said also of horses; fig. a fantastic proceeding or freak’. There is also a derived homonymous verb to caper that means ‘to skip or dance about in a lively or playful way’ (COED). The noun caper also has an additional slang meaning in English, namely ‘An illegal plot or enterprise, especially one involving theft’ (AHD). These are not everyday words, but they have an interesting story.

This second noun caper started as an abbreviation of the noun capriole, a word used in the art of horsemanship and horseback riding (Sp. equitación) for ‘a movement performed in classical riding, in which the horse leaps from the ground and kicks out with its hind legs’ (COED). This word is a late 16th century loanword from French capriole (now obsolete). French itself had borrowed this word a little bit earlier from Italian capriola ‘leap, somersault’, a word derived from capriolo ‘roebuck, wild goat’, a descendant from Lat. capreolus, diminutive of Lat. caper ‘billy goat, he-goat’ (genitive: caprī; cf. Lat. capra ‘she-goat’ and Sp. cabra ‘goat’).

Spanish also borrowed this Italian word, as cabriola, changing the Italian p to b by influence of the word cabra ‘goat’. In French too, the word capriole later changed to cabriole presumably under the influence of cabri ‘kid, young goat’ (cf. Sp. cabrito/a). French cabriole now means primarily ‘leap, prancing (of an animal), cavorting, (acrobatic) somersault’. It also has the meaning of Eng. capriole in equitation and, in ballet, it means ‘a jump in which one leg is extended into the air, the other is brought up to meet it, and the dancer lands on the second foot’ (COED). English has borrowed the word cabriole from French with just that last meaning.

Most dictionaries only give us these two nouns caper. The OED, however, mentions a few more that are now obsolete. There was a word caper in English that meant ‘a privateer (also caper-vessel); the captain of a privateer; a corsair’ and, secondarily, ‘a captor, seizer’. From this noun, a verb to caper, meaning ‘to privateer’, was derived, now also obsolete. Then there is another noun caper, also spelled kaper, used in Scottish English that means ‘a piece of oatcake and butter with a slice of cheese on it’. It is a loanword from Gaelic ceapaire ‘piece of bread and butter’. In addition, the OED also mentions two other, even rarer words caper in English.

[1] Some think that there are several species of the genus Capparis, some think that there is one species with several subspecies, and some still think that plant is a hybrid of Capparis orientalis and Capparis sicula.

Words for mushrooms and other fungi, Part 17

[This entry is taken from a chapter of Part II of the open-source textbook  Spanish-English Cognates: An Unconventional Introduction to Span...