Saturday, September 22, 2018

Spices and herbs, Part 7: Eng. anise & Sp. anís

[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. anise and Sp. anís

Anise [ˈæ.nɪs] is ‘a Mediterranean plant of the parsley family, cultivated for its aromatic seeds (aniseed)’ (COED). The anise plant is up to one meter in height (3.3 feet). The botanical name of the species is Pimpinella anisum of the Apiaceae family, native to the eastern Mediterranean region and the Middle East, having originated probably in Egypt.[1] The Spanish name is anís [a.ˈnis]. Both names come ultimately from Lat. anīsum, which comes from Ancient Greek ἄνισον (ánison).

Figure 163: The anise plant and its seeds.[i]

Engl. anise was borrowed from Old French in the 14th century, with later retraction of the stress to the initial syllable, a common change in early English loans. Spanish anís probably came into the language through Catalan (first attested in the 13th century). If it had been a patrimonial word in Spanish, it would have turned out as aniso. Actually, there is another Spanish (Castilian) name for this seed (first attested also in the 13th century), namely matalahúva or matalahúga (both forms are found in the DLE). It comes from an earlier matalfalúa or matahalúa, among other attested variants. This word was a loan from the Hispanic Arabic phrase ḥabbat ḥulúwwa, which literally meant ‘sweet grain’ and which is equivalent to Standard Arabic: ḥabbat lḥalāwah ‘grain of sweetness’ (DLE). By the way, the word for ‘anise’ in Modern Standard Arabic is يَنْسُون (yansūn) or of أَنِيسُون (ʾanīsūn), obviously a loan from Greek and a cognate of Eng. anise and Sp. anís.

The aromatic oil from this seed is used for a variety of purposes, such as for herbal infusions or tisanes and as a spice in various confections around the world, such as Peruvian picarones. It is also used to flavor liquor, resulting in a variety of liqueurs in the Mediterranean world, such as Spanish anís, Greek ouzo [ˈu.zoʊ̯], Italian sambuca, Bulgarian mastika, French absinthe, anisette, and pastis, Turkish raki, and Arabic arak. Anise has also been used as a medicinal herb to cure a variety of ailments such as insomnia, flatulence, menstrual cramps, and colic. Sometimes, anise is added to medicines to mask their unpleasant taste. However, anise oil in large quantities is quite toxic, especially after having been exposed to air.

The English word aniseed is a 14th century contraction of anise and seed. Both Eng. anise and aniseed translate into Spanish as anís. The word anís in Spanish is also used for candy made with anise as well as for an essence of this herb used in cooking. In addition, perhaps the most common use of the Spanish word anís is for a liqueur flavored with anise seeds (see above), which in English is usually called anisette [ˌ'zɛt], a word borrowed from French in the 19th century (see above). The French word anisette [ˈzɛt] is a diminutive of the word anis and it is actually short for anisette de Bordeaux ‘anisette from Bordeaux’, the original name of this particular variety of liqueur (OED).

The Greeks used the same word for this plant and for dill, a different plant with the botanical name Anethum graveolens. Dill is an annual herb also of the Apiaceae (celery) family, very common in Europe and Asia. Thus, the Greeks also called dill ἄνισον (ánison). Latin borrowed the word for ‘dill’, anethum, from a variant of this Greek word in a different Greek dialect in which the word for dill (and anise) was ἄνηθον (ánēthon). The Spanish word for ‘dill’ is eneldo, from an earlier aneldo, which descends from Vulgar Latin *anēthŭlum, a diminutive of anēthum. English did borrow the word anet [ˈæn.ət] for this plant, from Old French anet or aneth, but this name is now obsolete. The English word dill is of Germanic origin, though its ultimate source is unknown. The leaves of this plant, whether fresh or dried, are used as herbs in European and Asian cuisines. In the US, the word dill can also be used as short for the phrase dill pickle, which refers to ‘a pickled cucumber, gherkin, etc., flavored with dill’ (OED), which in Spanish is called pepinillo (en vinagre (al eneldo)).[2]

[1] Pimpinella is the botanical name for the genus of the Apiaceae family (subfamily Apioideae) to which anise (Pimpinella anisum) belongs. The word pimpinella is a variant of a word of disputed origin that seems to go back to Late Latin pipinella, the name given particularly to a plant used to spice wine. The descendant of this word in Spanish is pimpinela and in English, pimpernel, from Middle French pimpernele or pimpinelle.

Sp. pimpinela is used to two different plants. One of them, typically called pimpinela mayor, is a European herb known in English as burnet saxifrage (though it is not a burnet or a saxifrage), a plant of the Umbelliferae family whose botanical name is Pimpinella saxifraga. The other, known as pimpinela menor, sanguisorba, or just just pimpinela, has two synonymous botanical names: Poterium dictyocarpum and Sanguisorba minor. It is known in English as salad burnet, garden burnet, small burnet, or just burnet.

Some think that the Latin word pimpinella is a diminutive derived from Vulgar Latin *piperinus, which would have meant ‘pepper-like’, since the fruit of the plant resembled peppercorns (cf. Lat. piper). However, only some varieties of French have an r in this word (cf. Mod. Fr. pimprenelle ‘salad burnet’), which makes the etymology suspect. Corominas believes that Lat. pipinella comes from an earlier *pepinella, which would make this a word a diminutive derived from a Vulgar Latin pepo pepinis ‘melon, cucumber’ (from Classical Latin pepo peponis). The name would be motivated by the fact that the leaves of this plant were used in salads, just like cucumber leaves were used.

[2] A gherkin is ‘a small variety of cucumber, or a young green cucumber, used for pickling’ (COED). This word is a loan from early modern Dutch *gurkkijn, but ultimately it is thought to come from a Slavic language, where it was most likely a loanword of origin unknown. Spanish had a cognate of this word, now obsolete, which it got from Greek, namely angurria, which was used for a type of watermelon also known as badea. Presumably this word comes from some variant of Ancient Greek γγούριον (angoúrion) ‘cucumber’.

Sp. pepinillo ‘pickle, gherkin’ is a diminutive of pepino ‘cucumber’. The Spanish word pepino ‘cucumber’ is derived from a now obsolete word pepón ‘watermelon’. This word comes from Lat. pĕpo (gen. pĕpŏnis), the name of a type of large melon or a pumpkin. It seems that because of its ‑ón ending, this word was reinterpreted in Spanish as an augmentative and, thus, the ‘diminutive’ pepino was derived from it. Lat. pĕpo was a loan from Gk. πέπων (pépōn) ‘ripe’ (gen. πέπονος), derived from the verb πέπτειν (péptein) ‘to ripen, soften, etc.’.

[i] Sources: “Koehler1887-PimpinellaAnisum” by Franz Eugen Köhler, Köhler’s Medizinal-Pflanzen - List of Koehler Images. Licensed under Public Domain via Wikimedia Commons -; and “AniseSeeds” by User:Ben_pcc. - My desk.. Licensed under Public Domain via Wikimedia Commons -

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