We discussed that odd fruit the pawpaw a decade ago, at which time Bathrobe pointed out that “In Australia a pawpaw is a papaya,” but we didn’t really get into the linguistic aspect, so I’ll take the opportunity of happening on Matthew Meduri’s Belt essay “Consider the Pawpaw,” linked at MetaFilter, to do some of that. As rory says in that MeFi thread, “the UK/Aust./South Pacific pawpaw is what Americans know as the papaya. This American pawpaw is a different fruit.” To add to the confusion, the OED entry (revised 2005) says:

Variant of papaya n., of uncertain origin, apparently originally a shortening (although compare a reported disyllabic form in Otomaco pappai: see etymological note s.v. papaya n.).

The α forms reflect an earlier pronunciation /pəˈpɔː/ related to the shortening < papaya n. The β forms reflect the shift in stress to word-initial position which is now the current pronunciation.

N.E.D (1904) enters this under papaw and gives the pronunciations (păpǭ·, pǭpǭ·) /pəˈpɔː/ /pɔːˈpɔː/. Webster gives only the pronunciation /pəˈpɔː/ until the 20th cent.

And s.v. papaya (also from 2005):

< Spanish papaya (1535–57, designating the tree, now papayo; 1780 designating the fruit), probably < Taino papaya, Arawak papaia. Compare Middle French, French papaye (1579 as papaie), Italian papaia (1565), Portuguese papaia (1596), scientific Latin papaya (1753 in Linnaeus). Compare pawpaw n.

BobTheScientist at MeFi provides this handy rundown of species:

Asimina triloba pawpaw or custard apple
Annona cherimola cherimoya or custard apple
Annona muricata guanábana, soursop or custard apple
Annona reticulata ox heart, bullock’s heart or custard apple
Annona senegalensis wild custard-apple
Annona squamosa sugar apple, sweetsop or custard apple
Cananga odorata ylang-ylang Not custard apple but same family Annonaceae

And the Meduri piece includes the following tidbits:

The Shawnee word or phrase for September is ha’siminikiisfwa, which literally means pawpaw moon.[vi]

Lastly, the College of the Muscogee Nation in Oklahoma recently received a grant to research the potential for growing two traditional Mvskoke foods: orko and cvse, or pawpaw and pumpkin, respectively.

(That [vi] represents a footnote, but I have not found out a way to access the notes; when you click on the link, nothing happens.)


  1. January First-of-May says

    BobTheScientist at MeFi provides this handy rundown of species

    TIL that the anona popular in Israel, which I also recall being called “custard apple”, is technically not any of the above (it’s a hybrid, Annona × atemoya).

    I’ve been told that it’s very tasty, and also that it’s poisonous if not prepared correctly. I’m a bit reluctant, myself…

  2. Michael Hendry says

    I think it must be difficult to prepare a paw paw incorrectly and make it poisonous. I’ve eaten them on many occasions, and fed them to others, without discomfort. They grow along the Potomac and can be found (for instance) in county parks in Loudoun and Fairfax counties, Virginia. The best place to find them is at the north end of Seneca Road, very near the boundary between those two counties, adjoining the Trump golf course, which you can also walk across if you like (watch out for golf balls) – Seneca Regional Park is to the east of the TGC. There is a free parking lot at the end of Seneca Road, and several different trails head NNE, NE, and E to the river, half a mile or so away. No view of the Maryland side unless you wade a narrow shallow channel and then cross an island which has no trails on it, or walk east along the channel to the end of the island. (Going west is along the shore is not recommended: the trail goes up a very steep slope and becomes narrow and slippery: it’s a long way down. I only did that once.)

    There are no toilets. For those, go further east to Riverbend park or adjoining Great Falls National Park. The latter charges a high entrance fee ($10 a head, last I heard), while Riverbend only asks a voluntary $2 contribution. If you park at Riverbend, walk down the river a mile or two, and clamber over some not-very-obstacular rocks, you are in Great Falls NP and can see the more spectacular sights there.)

    Anyway, to get to my point:

    Especially at Seneca Regional Park, there are hundreds of paw paw trees along the river and its tributary creeks. The ones along the river tend to be picked over, with few fruit left within reach for picking, but the ones along the creeks have plenty. (Branches are flexible, so you can pull them down to reach fruit you wouldn’t otherwise be able to reach.)

    I think it was the third summer I went there in the fall that I noticed the sign that said it was illegal to remove any plants or animals. Oops! Seneca Road park gets very few visitors, so only your conscience would provide much of an obstacle to picking paw paws. Many of the grade 6-12 students I was teaching then were glad to try them, some more than once, though they weren’t exactly begging for them: tasty but not amazingly so. And yes, the flesh is a pure white pudding (much softer than a banana) that tastes rather like banana and a couple of other fruits mixed together: a bit like a mixed-fruit-flavored pill (e.g. TUMS). And there’s not much of it: a couple of spoonsful per paw paw.

    P.S. Years ago, I lived in an apartment with a bathroom mirror that came all the way down to the shelf (?) the sink was in: I was taken aback when I walked in in the middle of the night and saw the ‘SMUT’ label.

  3. @January First-of-May. Annona squamosa is called אנונה קשקשית (anona kaskasit) in Israeli Hebrew, the second element of which comes from Hebrew קשקשים (kaskasim) ‘dandruff’. Informally, anona kaskasit is shortened to anona.

    As Bob the Scientist notes, the common English names of Annona squamosa are sweetsop and sugar apple. I am not aware that custard apple is a third common name, but he knows far more than I do in this matter.

  4. You cannot delve into these deep waters without considering the mysterious 19th-century feats ascribed to of Paw Paw, Michigan, who was publicized to a new generation (admittedly using archaic terminology) by that Eminent post-Victorian Brian Peter George St. John le Baptiste de la Salle Eno thusly:

  5. Hebrew kaskasim means ‘scales’, as on a fish or a reptile. ‘Dandruff’ is a secondary meaning. Anona kaskasit means the same as Annona squamosa.

  6. Stu Clayton says

    Hebrew kaskasim means ‘scales’, as on a fish or a reptile. ‘Dandruff’ is a secondary meaning.

    In German there is only one word for both: Schuppen. There is no contextual ambiguity, since fish don’t get dandruff. There is no invidious distinction of primary and secondary meanings.

    You simply do not buy a bottle of Anti-Schuppenshampoo when planning a trout dinner.

    Fahrradschuppen is a bike shed. The connection here is that a lot of bikeshedding can be done on the subject of contextual ambiguity. Bikes don’t get dandruff and don’t require scaling, so they provide a neutral diskussionstheoretische baseline.

  7. Jen in Edinburgh says

    And now I’ve had the Bare (Bear?) Necessities in my head all morning.

  8. Stu Clayton says

    the Bare (Bear?) Necessities

    Does a bear really need to go in the woods ?

  9. The Shawnee word or phrase for September is ha’siminikiisfwa, which literally means pawpaw moon.[vi]…
    (That [vi] represents a footnote, but I have not found out a way to access the notes; when you click on the link, nothing happens.)

    Siebert (1975) ‘Resurrecting Virginia Algonquian from the Dead’, p. 365, no. 149 (available here) reconstructs Proto-Algonquian *ahšiᐧmini ‘pawpaw’ and lists the forms in Fox, Ojibwe, and Shawnee. The Strachey mentioned there is William Strachey.

  10. The element -mini in this reconstruction looks familiar from elsewhere—in English from persimmon and chinquapin (see for example the account in Frederick Webb Hodge Handbook of American Indians North of Mexico, p. 275, here), and in French in asimine ‘pawpaw’ and plaquemine ‘persimmon’.

    In reference to Siebert’s comment that no Menomini cognate is known, I gather there was an early attempt to associate the first element in *ahšiᐧmini with *aʔsenya ‘stone’, in reference to the multiple large, hard seeds in each pawpaw fruit, but this proved abortive. I am certainly not qualified in the least to judge any Algonquian questions such as this.

  11. David Marjanović says

    Does a bear really need to go in the woods ?

    Don’t know about the woods specifically, but müssen tut man aufs Klo.

  12. @Michael Hendry: Consuming fruit does not count, legally, as a removing a plant from a park.

  13. The Wiktionary gives a different, non-Algonquian etymology for plaquemine. But I wonder… However, Albert Samuel Gatschet (1883) The Shetimasha Indians of St. Mary’s Parish, Southern Louisiana (as quoted here, page 6), gives a different word in Chitimacha, nánu:

    In their aboriginal state the [Chitimacha] tribe supported themselves mainly by vegetable food; but they also ate the products of the hunt, which consisted of deer and other smaller animals. The women had to provide for the household by collecting pistaches, wild beans, a plant called kúpinu (kántak in Chá´ta), and another called woman’s potatoes, the seed of the pond-lily (áktā), grains of the palmetto, the rhizoma ot the common Sagittaria, and that of the Sagittaria with the large leaf, persimmons (plaquemine in Creole, nánu in Shetimasha), wild grapes, cane seed, and súccû [soco] (guspi in Shetimasha) (the muscadine0. They also planted, to some extent, maize. sweet potatoes, and, after the arrival of the whites, wheat ; or procured these articles by exchanging their home-made baskets for them.

    Did a Wiktionary editor just assume that plaquemine was a Chitimacha word because Bayou Plaquemine is part of the traditional lands of the Chitimacha people? I would appreciate any clarification of the etymology of plaquemine that any LH readers can offer.

  14. As far as I can gather, the first attestations of plaquemine are in French accounts of region of the Illinois River and the Upper Mississippi, a region inhabited by Algonquian-speaking peoples. See the top of page 122 here, I hope, with reference to Fort Pimiteoui. So around 1000 kilometers from the Chitimacha.

  15. So that’s how Plaquemines Parish got called that! I always liked that name.

  16. Michael Hendry says

    I didn’t eat them in the parks. Wanted to wash them first and give others a chance to try them. I think the statute of limitation has probably passed by now (it’s been 5+ years).

  17. J.W. Brewer says

    It might be otherwise in a park governed by Va. state law, but in at least one federal park in Va. there’s a carve-out that authorizes fruit-picking (but not nettle-beheading):

  18. For the etymology of pawpaw, the Wiktionary offers a confusing jumble (here), including a mysterious “Via Yuchi pahpah”. Is the source for this a presentation by David K. Hackett (Woktela), the text of which is available here? As far as I could discover, Hackett acquired a degree of knowledge of Yuchi from his grandmother as a child. Here is the relevant paragraph from the pdf linked to:

    The term pawpaw for the tree and its fruit has been widely ascribed to the Spanish as derived from papaya. I would disagree in part. While this may indeed play a role in its acceptance, I would assert that the term comes from the Yuchi who call this tree pahpah, and that it was accepted because of the Spanish familiarity with the papaya. Pawpaws make a loud popping noise when stepped on or crushed. A Yuchi village near the southwest side of Oak Ridge, Tennessee appears on old maps as Pawpaw town.

    Sheer coincidental phonetic similarity? (And could the Yuchi word have helped English pawpaw, originally “papaya (Carica papaya)”, along in becoming the usual American English word for Asimina triloba?) Unfortunately, much of the research done on the Yuchi language in the previous two centuries seems to lie unpublished in archives, so this question is hard to investigate online.

  19. Added notes on Schuppen: for the “scales / dandruff” word, that form is the plural; the singular is die Schuppe (female). The “shed” word is male, with Schuppen being both the singular and plural form.

  20. Xerib’s account of the Plaquemine etymology is indeed compelling, Tai Shih-de, but if you follow your wiki link to the alternate hypothesis of Atakapa, an isolate, you might find reasons to appreciate that option:

    >In addition, Swanton notes the existence of a reflexive prefix hat-

  21. If you accept movement of the affix, Language Hat is language itself.

  22. BTW there is botanic mystery with custard apple too.
    It’s a species Native to South America but very popular in Asia, where it’s been supposed to have gained a foothold after Columbus. But last year’s paper in Antiquity suggests that the introduction of the plant to India happened at least two millennia earlier?

  23. David Eddyshaw says

    Sadly, I can discover no word for “dandruff” in any Oti-Volta language, from which it surely follows by inescapable logic that the afflction is entirely unknown in West Africa.

    On the other hand, Swahili has mba, which looks pretty core-vocabulary-ish. One supposes that the speakers of proto-Bantu acquired the condition during their migration through the Congo rain forest.

  24. The Algonquian etymology looks straightforward, except where did the -l- come from?

    W. A. Read’s oldie-but-goodie Louisiana Place-names of Indian Origin (1927; here) notes an early source writing the form as pliakmine. The source, Bossu’s 1768 Nouveaux voyages aux Indes Occidentales (here), refers to “pain de Pliakmine”, which Forster (here) mistranslates as “a kind of bread which they call Pliakmine”. Read only refers to Forster but overall he gets it right.
    Read further refers to du Pratz’s 1758 Histoire de la Louisiane (here): “Le Piacminier, que les François de la Colonie nomment Placminier, a la feuille & le bois assez semblable à notre Neflier…”

    So, the -l-/-i- alternation seems reasonably well-accounted for, but I still don’t understand it.

  25. @Xerîb,

    Hackett seems to be a fantasist.

    For Yuchi, the most up-to-date academic treatment is Mary Linn’s dissertation, A Grammar of Euchee (Yuchi), but as you say, there are no published dictionaries.

  26. a fantasist

    One blogpost, two problematic Wiktionary etymologies… alas.

  27. So, the -l-/-i- alternation seems reasonably well-accounted for, but I still don’t understand it.

    Both Poitevin and Saintongeais, varieties of Langue d’oïl that contributed to the formation of Québécois and other North American French varieties, have palatalization of -l- to a greater or lesser degree in initial clusters like pl-. (The sort of phenomenon seen in Italian piombo and Portuguese chumbo from plumbum, for instance.) See for Poitevin, for example, here (p. 252), with piace and pliasse corresponding to standard French place. Perhaps French speakers of other varieties reverse-engineered pliakmine, plaquemine, from a piakimin in the mouths of voyageurs with Poitevin or similar accents.

    Short comment because I am on the road and can’t get to any sources now.

  28. It will remind many LH readers of the epenthesis of *-ľ- after palatalized labials in Slavic, maintained across Slavic in initial syllables, as in Russian блюдо (borrowing of Gothic biuþs or an earlier Germanic form at some point), or плевать, or блюсти.

  29. @Dmitry, from the Abstract

    … arguments for Asian-American transoceanic contacts before the discovery of America by Columbus in AD 1492.

    Ah, these are the same contacts that brought kumar(a) to Polynesia.

    Back-migration across the land bridge from N.Am. to N.Asia seems plausible — horses did that. But from S./Central Am.?

    Is there other supporting evidence for “the antiquity of custard apple on Indian soil”? Like an ancient name/appearance in myths? One carbon-dated sample seems errm flimsy. Could a BC 1520 seed be confused with something native to India at the time (possibly that’s gone extinct since)?

  30. Custard apple seeds are big, making them the sort of thing that could survive being carried in the innards of frigate birds, although I have no idea whether such long-flying sea birds have any interest in them. Moreover, the fruits themselves (at the least the varieties I am familiar with—which is not actually that many, since I have never been particularly fond of custard apples) have thick skins and seem to be less dense than other similarly sized fruit, so they would be reasonable candidates to float longer distances at part of debris rafts.

    I’m not suggesting either of these is particularly likely, just throwing a couple ideas out there.

  31. reasonable candidates to float …

    Whether the floating was human-assisted or debris rafts or bird-assisted, Tokwa/Mirzapur is a long way inland. So we’d have to posit trading and/or cultivation (surrounded by fertile lands, sez wp). Again I’d expect cultural connections.

  32. Oh, BTW, the paper’s title:

    Possible Evidence of Pre-Columbian Transoceanic Voyages …

    (And the paper (2009) is mentioned in wp on Pre-Columbian theories — with no apparent later follow-up. That is, there are later papers; they seem merely to cite the 2009 claims without further question.)

    is rather jumping ahead of the evidence. Even if there’s ancient custard-apple DNA in inland India, that’s not sufficient to establish there were voyages or that they were transoceanic. (Perhaps the seeds floated on straws of the clutched-at variety.)

    wp quotes from the paper Alexander Cunningham 1879 describing what appeared to be custard-apple depicted in a carving on a stupa in Central India. Well has anybody since (who knows the flora of India) gone to look whether the carving could be interpreted as some other fruit or bud? (It may be the remains were destroyed after Cunningham’s excavations.)

    Sanskrit names Rama Sita, Luvunee, Ramphala, Krishnabeejam aot, according to one ref. Do any of those indicate ancientness? Krishnabeejam sounds like what’d bring you down after smoking too much weed.

  33. This 1988 paper (cited by some of the later papers that also cite the 2009 one) shows the level of scholarship we’re contending with:

    … name, Kumar, was used by Cuna Indians of Panama (who formerly lived on the Pacific coast of Colombia), and is also in the Sanskrit text of India, where the word Kumar is still currently used for sweet potato.
    [AntC adds: Fijian for sweet potato is ‘kumala’; first documented India-Fiji contact 1813, but most voyages from Europe to Polynesia stopped in at India, wp.]

    They’re dating custard-apple in India to 1590 (Table 1) , along with a great deal of handwaving

    we raise the question of how long it takes for a new species to be accepted and used extensively. We suggest that it probably took centuries -not decades- for the spread across India or China to have taken place.

  34. There are images of custard apple – but possibly something else which looks like it – in II c. BC Bhahrut temple in India
    There is genetic and archarological evidence on cherimoya suggesting pre-Columbian dispersion in the Americas.

  35. Brett: Procellariids and other ocean crossers have a marine diet, sensibly enough. They don’t eat seeds.

    If custard apple was cultivated or grew wild 4000 years ago in India, you’d think some other physical evidence would have turned up for the following 2500 years, but the only evidence presented is artistic depictions, which are open to misinterpretation.

    A red flag about the paper is that there is no discussion of sample preparation. For methods, they refer to a 1978 paper. Since then, a lot of work has been done on avoiding falsely old ages in radiocarbon dating.

  36. Many thanks to Y for that healthy corrective!

    Leaving aside the question how and why—even when swooping down to drink fresh water on land—a petrel or a frigatebird or the like might swallow the large seed of Annona squamosa and not regurgitate it… I would also like to add that the seeds of Annona squamosa are toxic and have been used traditionally in the preparation of insecticides and fish poison. I gather that there is a substantial risk of eye damage to persons crushing and preparing the seeds for such uses if the toxins come into contact with the eyes. I wonder what would happen to an ocean-crossing bird with such a seed sitting its gizzard, the hard outer seed coat being ground down to the toxic inner layers…

    (I have also been told that the seeds of sweet potato (Ipomoea batatas), about the size of a peppercorn, are toxic to some extent as well, and contain a hallucinogenic compound related to LSD. I wonder how long the bird’s trans-Pacific trip from Americas would be…)

    I have read that the mysterious eye ailment suffered by the Lewis and Clark expedition may have been caused by the toxins found in other parts of the pawpaw tree (Asimina triloba) besides the fruit pulp. Journal entry here (19 September 1806). I half-remember that one indigenous name for the pawpaw could be broken down as meaning ‘eye-poison’ or ‘eye-destroyer’ or the like. Or maybe it was a species of Annona somewhere else in the Americas. I would be grateful to learn the form if anyone else knows it.

  37. I was interested in the history of the American Spanish word anón and the genus name Annona and looked into it. I give links to what I found below for any LH readers who are interested.

    Gonzalo Fernández de Oviedo y Valdés, Historia general y natural de las Indias, islas y tierra firme del mar océano, described the tree and fruit called anón (part I, book 8, chapter 18), here in the 1535 edition, and here in a modern edition. The name is evidently Taíno.

    This name seems to have spread with the fruit around the world. See under Anona on page 21 of Sebastião Rodolfo Dalgado, Portuguese Vocables in Asiatic Languages (translated A. X. Soares) here. Rumphius, for example, used anona in his description of the flora of Ambon (translated into Latin and published posthumously with a Latin translation in 1741), as here (book I, chapter 39, p. 136). (He gives the general Malay name as manoa or menoa and the Ambonese as nonas.)

    Linné changed the spelling in his description of the genus Annona, after Latin annona. The details of this change are given here (see especially footnote 2 on Linné’s policy) and here. Linné’s ‘principal of rejecting barbarous names’ here is shocking to me. I much prefer Buffon’s policy of adopting or adapting indigenous names. I wonder if there is a study of this development in scientific naming.

  38. Sanskrit names Rama Sita, Luvunee, Ramphala, Krishnabeejam aot, according to one ref. Do any of those indicate ancientness?

    Sanskrit kṛṣṇabīja- कृष्णबीज literally means ‘having a black seed’ (kṛṣṇa- ‘black’ + bīja- ‘seed’). It has been used as a name for various plants, namely, a species of moringa having red flowers (Moringa longituba? however, this is not native to India), and naturally, the watermelon. 🙂 As a completely banal and transparent descriptive compound formed using a completely banal and productive Sanskrit compounding type (namely, a bahuvrihi), it gives no indication of being very old.

    The designation lavanī लवनी is known from (later) lexical text(s) (I have not taken the time to investigate which ones, and how old they each might be). It does not look to be of any great antiquity. In fact, I wonder if it is a recent Sanskritization of Hindustani lonā لونا लोना ‘Annona reticulata’, dissimilated from nona. For this, see under Anona in Portuguese Vocables In Asiatic Languages (also linked to in my previous comment, which has been eaten by Akismet for the moment, but I hope will be freed from moderation soon).

    The names like Rama Sita, Ramphala, etc., are very interesting. Across India, fruits of the genus Annona have names drawn from the Ramayana. The Facebook post in Telugu has four of them, with pictures and their names in Telugu:

    1. Rāmaphalaṁ రామఫలం Annona reticulata (Rāma, avatar of Vishnu and husband of Sita)

    2. Sītāphalaṁ సీతాఫలం Annona squamosa (Sītā, long-suffering wife of Rāma)

    3. Lakṣmaṇaphalaṁ లక్ష్మణ ఫలం Annona muricata (Lakshmana is Rama’s brother)

    4. Hanumaphalaṁ హనుమ ఫలం Annona cherimola (Hanuman is the monkey god who aids Rama)

    (This may represent an idealized set. I will have to investigate the facts on the ground.)

    I would really like to know how this tradition got started, but if one googles this question, one gets all sorts of just-so stories I won’t bother to repeat here. I am going to ask around to all the South Asians I know to see if anything more certain comes of it.

    (For good measure, there is also apparently a Telugu కృష్ణ ఫలం kr̥ṣṇaphalaṁ ‘passionfruit (Passiflora edulis)’, perhaps after Krishna, Vishnu’s next incarnation after Rama? Kṛṣṇa literally means ‘black, dark, dark blue’, and ripe fruits of Passiflora edulis have darkish red skins.)

  39. I half-remember that one indigenous name for the pawpaw could be broken down as meaning ‘eye-poison’ or ‘eye-destroyer’ or the like.

    If anyone is interested, I found the form I was thinking of in Pamela Munro, ‘Gulf and Yuki-Gulf’ Anthropological Linguistics, Vol. 36, No. 2 (Summer, 1994), pp. 125–222). (Available on JSTOR here.)

    The Natchez form for ‘pawpaw’ is variously given as uktu le’makes and uktu ‘lemagis in different sources. Here is Munro’s treatment of ‘pawpaw’ in her study of the possible genetic affiliations among Natchez and other langauges of the SE United States (abbreviations expanded), p. 189:

    PAWPAW. Muskogean PAWPAW {Creek-Seminole ołko}; Natchez uktu ’lemagis (Van Tuyl (1979)); Tunica yúkula.

    Munro does not give a morphological breakdown. Of Van Tuyl, she notes: ‘Van Tuyl (1979) is a compilation of Natchez words from a number of old sources, many highly suspect or not well understood’. However, Munro gives ‘eye’ as Natchez ˀuktuL, p. 170. (L belongs to the Natchez voiceless sonorant series W, Y, M, N, L). So Van Tuyl’s form. So perhaps what Van Tuyl notes as -emagis means ‘harm, destroy’? As rank speculation, I will just note the entry for ‘burn’ in Munro, p. 161.

    BURN (1)… Atakapa lam ‘burn, shine, smart’, law; Mukogean BURN (1) {Creek-Seminole lipli:y-, Choctaw libbi ‘flame (v.)’}, STING (1) {Koasati lambi, Chicasaw lawwi); Natchez le:-haku:š (H), leM-haki:š ‘shine’ (H); Tunica láhi ‘get burned’.

    (H is Mary Haas.)

  40. David Marjanović says

    Linné’s ‘principal of rejecting barbarous names’ here is shocking to me.

    I don’t know if the botanists followed it for a while; the zoologists never did, though some did go for proper latinizations like Varanus and Vombatus.

  41. Trond Engen says

    Xerib: Linné’s ‘principal of rejecting barbarous names’ here is shocking to me. I much prefer Buffon’s policy of adopting or adapting indigenous names. I wonder if there is a study of this development in scientific naming.

    That wouldn’t have been as clear at the time. For Linné and his contemporaries, Latin was if not a living language, certainly one in daily use by university graduates all over the world and one with a whole register of grammatical features, phonological constraints and synchronic rules that had to be obeyed for any new coinage to work. It would have been much less clear that the new system of scientific names would become completely independent of the Latin language, or that Latin itself soon would be obsolete as the international language of science.

  42. Trond Engen says

    Xerib: Rāmaphalaṁ రామఫలం etc.

    I got interested in phalaṁ ఫలం “fruit (with a wide range of metaphorical extensions)”. It appears that depending on who you ask it may indeed be from PIE *bʰel- “blow; swell” and thus related to as different words as Greek phallos and English balls. Possibly even to bloom, which is what I actually went looking for.

  43. >If anyone is interested,


    >kr̥ṣṇaphalaṁ ‘passionfruit

    This has me vainly hoping for an Easter etymology behind passionfruit.

  44. @Dimitry There are images of custard apple – but possibly something else which looks like it – in II c. BC Bhahrut temple in India

    That’s Cunningham again, p. 47 point 14.. With some useful discussion where he acknowledges the custard-apple is supposed to be post-Columbian. It includes …

    The common Hindi name is Ata, or simply at, from the Sanskrit dtripya.
    [lots of OCR trouble here: the ‘a’ of ‘at’ I think has a circumflex. The alleged ‘d’ of ‘dtripya’ is again circumflex ‘a’.]

    Thank you @Xerib for those etymologies. I fear these Bhahrut names aren’t going to add anything.

    Although the temple was founded BCE “with many reliefs from the 2nd century BCE, or later” [wp], the “or later” worries me. Is it a reasonable doubt [q.v.] to ask if some sculpting was post-Columbian? And again whether the depictions could be some other fruit? (I can’t find pictures of these fruit. There are plenty of (grainy) images online of the human reliefs.) These sculptures are notable for their inscriptions/labels for the panels. AFAICT they’re labelling human-featured stories, not the names of fruit depicted.

    There seems to be a small industry of finding S.Am. flora depicted on pre-Columbian temples in India. Are these indisputably maize ears in Karnataka? (I can’t get any of the links to work to give better detail. … ah, here PDF page 4 [beware is ResearchGate] The paper includes thorough discussion — except apparently no consideration of whether there are native plants looking the same.)

  45. Identified as “maize ears” by someone who hasn’t actually held one? You can’t really palm an ear of corn long end up. I mean maybe if you really tried, sort of like balancing a baseball bat on your palm, but you wouldn’t. And they aren’t pear-shaped.

  46. There was some discussion of those in Maize 2 (aka maize crack-pottery), including links to higher resolution photos and a video tour of the statues with what are supposed to be corn cobs. Like Ryan says, they really aren’t the right shape.

  47. @Ryan by someone who hasn’t actually held one?

    To be fair to the evidence, Johannessen and Parker have actually held several. Page numbered 178 in their paper photo “Sweet com from CU’s home garden with typical warped shape caused by rapid drying in a food dryer. ” Aimed to illustrate why not all corn are long and straight, but maybe curved as per the reliefs. Discussion mid-page numbered 171. (The corn would dry out/curl when left as votive offerings.)

    So let’s not judge entirely by modern standards of over-engineered hybrids. (My first experience of maize was in France, where they were exclusively cattle feed, and all sorts of weird shapes — since the cattle weren’t going to stick them on skewers.) The paper points out some of the reliefs appear to represent ‘silks’ or tufts at the pointy end of the corns.

    You can’t really palm an ear of corn long end up.

    .. depicted being held erect in the hands of attendants to the gods with very specific hand symbols (mudras}, always with thumb and index finger touching and middle finger extended along the axis of the ear.
    [page numbered 170-171. So this is a conventional hand shape for temple reliefs — whatever they’re holding.]

    My earlier comment about other possible candidate veges that the reliefs might be modelled on was made in haste; I apologise and withdraw. See page numbered 171 last para and ff.

    Thank you @MMcM/Polyglot Vegetarian. I apologise for mostly re-litigating ground you’ve already well-trampled. I don’t see anything I’d call “crack-pottery”. OTOH I do see a lot of vituperative mud-slinging [**] and appeals to common sense — used by both sides, so neither common nor indisputably sense. What might be the most applicable paper “Maize Ears Not Sculpted in 13th Century Somnathpur Temple in India” — which includes linguistic considerations — is behind pretty vicious pay walls.

    Re linguistic comparanda, I see a suggestion the temples were carved by folks who then got invaded/chased out of the area. So the language we should be investigating is now spoken in the uplands.

    Other thoughts: Corn cobs float, especially if you haven’t peeled them. Would they still be viable after floating from Mexico to Asia? J&P cite Heyerdhal as evidence for pre-Columbian trans-Pacific voyaging. That would be conventional for 1989; and perhaps we should thank H for at least spurring the research; but I immediately subtract several gazillion credulity points.

    [**] The debate seems to be caught up in Indian nationalism/anti-Europeanism. Like India don’t need no stinking Europeans. I (as a very-nearly vegetarian) am very happy my veggie store has stuff that originated from all round the world. And I’m happy Indian vegetarian food uses potatoes and tomatoes — or is somebody going to suggest they got to India pre-Columbian?

  48. >depicted being held erect in the hands of attendants to the gods with very specific hand symbols (mudras}, always with thumb and index finger touching and middle finger extended along the axis

    So kind of like this:

    Which has the advantages of growing in the general region, and being much closer to the shape of the food depicted.

  49. the advantages of growing in the general region

    wp thinks “snake fruit” grows only in Indonesia. I’d call that a couple of regions apart. Remember these reliefs are dated C13th; so now you need to explain how they got to India at that date; and find evidence they were cultivated. Are you offering what wp calls ‘original research’?

    The “Maize Ears Not …” paper claims they are Muktāphala (मुक्ताफल) — “an imaginary fruit bearing pearls”. OTOH that link gives many senses of the word — including … custard-apple (in Sanskrit and Marathi). The -phala bit already covered by Xerib and Trond, above.

    So if we’re to allow “imaginary fruit”s, the resemblance of the IIC BCE reliefs to custard-apple could be another coincidence. All bets are off. (Unless that carbon dating can be corroborated.)

  50. January First-of-May says

    with a whole register of grammatical features, phonological constraints and synchronic rules that had to be obeyed for any new coinage to work

    That explains Vombatus vel sim. (and AFAIK this kind of phonological adjustment is still in use in the few contexts where Latin use is still a thing), but what Linnaeus did with An(n)ona seems to have rather been a case of phonosemantic matching, whereas he pretended that he chose a pre-existing Latin word of different (and very vaguely relevant) meaning that just so happened to closely resemble the original non-Latin form.

  51. re-litigating ground you’ve already well-trampled

    Oh, I did not mean to mark off territory; just to point to some clearer images and other relevant links.

    I don’t see anything I’d call “crack-pottery”

    Yeah, I decided against any kind of prejudiced title like that, since there are more than enough appeals to authority and so on on all sides. The Columbian theory, that it spread over India and China in a small number of generations, is itself pretty remarkable.

    potatoes and tomatoes

    And chili peppers. And, via similar channels, but not from the New World, some coles/Brassicas like cabbage and cauliflower.

  52. My own bias when first seeing that paper made me think “oh, another ‘India had it first’ story.” Sadly, reading the paper didn’t change my mind.

  53. David Marjanović says

    what Linnaeus did with An(n)ona seems to have rather been a case of phonosemantic matching, whereas he pretended that he chose a pre-existing Latin word of different (and very vaguely relevant) meaning that just so happened to closely resemble the original non-Latin form.

    The most beautiful example of this, except without any of the semantics as far as I can see, is Alligator. It’s younger, though; for Linnaeus it was all Lacerta crocodilus

    The Columbian theory, that it spread over India and China in a small number of generations, is itself pretty remarkable.

    Not that much; compare turkey.

  54. The common Hindi name is Ata, or simply ât, from the Sanskrit âtripya.

    The group of Hindustani ātā آتا आता (with variant atā अता) ‘Annona squamosa’ (also ‘A. reticulata’?), Marathi āt आत, Bengali ātā আতা, Odia āta /atɔ/ ଆତ, etc., is of Portuguese origin as well. See for example the list of vernacular names in the Wikipedia, and especially Dalgado Portuguese Vocables page 26f, here, with extensive discussion. Dalgado mentions for the alleged Sanskrit etymon that Cunningham puts forward.

    As for Cunningham’s etymology—in fact, apparently some lexical text(s) give ātr̥pya- as meaning ‘custard apple’. (Again, I have not investigated which lexical texts, because the uncertain dating of these, as well as the fact that all sorts of things can be added to such texts in the copying process, makes this an often fruitless task.) In general, ātr̥pya- just means ‘to be enjoyed’ (gerundive), formed in regular fashion from the preverb ā- and the verbal root √tr̥p ‘satisfy oneself with, be pleased with, enjoy’. One could see how ātr̥pya- might be settled upon by an early modern herbalist trying to come up with a Sanskrit equivalent to the vernacular ātā. (On the other hand, if we take an Old Indic *ātr̥pya- and run it through regular sound changes—loss of intervocalic single stops, > i (or a), regular cluster simplification of -py- > -pp-—I would expect a Prakrit *āippa and perhaps a Hindi *aip(?), if everything had gone as usual in the history of the language.)

    The Portuguese name ata itself is evidently of indigenous American origin. Various sources have been proposed: Arawak ‘tree’ (see bottom of page 228, no. 109, here, Claudius Henricus de Goeje (1928) The Arawak Language of Guiana); Tukuna atta ‘sort of custard apple’ (see page 159 here, Curt Nimuendajú (1952) The Tukuna; representing an areal term of Amazonia?). I haven’t investigated this in depth—maybe other LH readers can find something more definite.

    Also note p. 223–224 in Manuel Urbina y Altamirano, ‘Los Zapotes de Hernández’ in Anales del Museo Nacional de México, vol. 7 (1903), available here, on the names ahate, ate, in the Spanish-speaking world. Urbina discusses the treatment of various Mexican fruits by Francisco Hernández de Toledo in his Rerum medicarum Novae Hispaniae thesaurus. Here is the page (348) from Hernández in the 1651 edition of his work, with a fine picture of an Annona species labelled ahate de Panucho. (This Panucho?)

  55. As an addendum to my previous comment, Spanish ate for Annona squamosa has been borrowed not only into Tagalog and other languages of the Philippines as atis, but also as åtes in Chamorro on Guam, where the Spanish galleons would stop on their way from Acapulco to Manila.

  56. Another name in Hindi-Urdu for Annona squamosa besides Sītāphal सीताफल is śarīfā شریفه शरीफ़ा (masculine), colloquially also sarīphā सरीफा. This designation looks like it may have developed from Arabic šarīfa شريفة ‘noble, excellent woman; a female Sharif’, feminine of شريف šarīf ‘noble, excellent; a Sharif’, through Persian šarīfa شریفه. Rāma’s wife Sītā is of course the paragon of nobility and womanly virtue. I wonder, is Hindustani śarīfā originated as an Islamicisation of Sītāphal ‘Sītā-fruit’? Or rather, is Sītāphal a recent Hinduization of śarīfā (Annona squamosa being ‘the excellent fruit’)? It is interesting that Nepali has सलिफा saliphā, सरिफा sariphā. The Nepali-speaking regions of South Asia have never had a very large Muslim population. So I wonder—perhaps Hindustani sarīphā was borrowed into Nepali at a time when sarīphā was the general term, before सीताफल Sītāphal had been coined? But then why, in the first place, would the fruit be named for a virtuous woman with śarīfā in Hindustani? Just rank speculation on my part. I am going to ask around to see where the Nepali names are localized in Nepal and adjacent Nepali-speaking regions, and see if I can find out anything more about Sītāphal in general.

    Wondering if śarīfā might be a folk-etymological alteration of anything, I looked into the etymology of Mexican and Honduran Spanish saramuyo (saramullo, zaramullo, zaramuyo), saramuya, etc., meaning ‘Annona squamosa’, although this could hardly be the etymon for the Hindustani word—how could the Spanish saramuyo have reached India if there is nothing like it in Philippine languages and Malay in between? Spanish saramuyo is apparently from Mayan ts’almuy, dzalmuy ‘Annona squamosa’. I wasn’t able to determine which Mayan language(s) in the brief search I did.

    If you are wondering about the origin of the somewhat similar-sounding cherimoya… Spanish chirimoya ‘cherimoya fruit’, chirimoyo ‘cherimoya tree (Annona cherimola)’, is usually taken to be from Quechua, as a compound of chiri ‘cold’ and muya ‘garden, orchard’ (or perhaps Ecuadorian Quechua muhu (muju) ‘fruit’, or another Quechua word; see below). Chiri, ‘cold’, because A la chirimoya le gusta ver la nieve, in the distance on the mountains, but not to be touched by it—that is, the cherimoya is an upland crop that requires a period of cool temperatures to thrive. However, there is some dispute about this Quechua etymology, and some scholars have proposed that chirimoya is somehow Mayan too (saramuyo with Quechua folk-etymological refashioning?). Here is Corominas, Diccionario crítico etimológico castellano e hispánico, on the topic:

    El chirimoyo se cultiva hoy desde el Norte de Chile y de la Arg. hasta Méjico, pero según el Padre Cobo lo vió él por primera vez en Guatemala el año 1629 y desde allí envió semillas al Perú, donde hasta entonces no se conocía, aunque después su cultiva: prosperó allí más que en parte alguna. De acuerdo con este dato suele atribuirse el vocablo al quiché, dialecto maya hablado en Guatemala. Así Friederici, Am. Wb., 180. Sin embargo, son de notar los hechos señalados por el propio Friederici: ‘Termer rechaza el origen quiché por no ser conocido hoy el vocablo en este idioma, y el Dr. Hernández (si no me engaño, a fines del S. XVI) muestra que en su tiempo chirimoya no era palabra conocida en Méjico. En vista de ello cabe la posibilidad de que al ser importada la fruta en el Perú recibiera allí su nombre, y que al tomar gran importancia el cultivo de la misma se difundiera la nueva denominación quichua hasta el mismo país de origen. En efecto, según observa Lenz, Dicc., 305, el vocablo se explica por el idioma de los incas: číri ‘frío’ + múyu ‘círculo, rueda’, es decir, ‘fruta redonda, fresca’. Entonces lo primitivo sería chirimoyo, de donde se sacaría el femenino según el modelo de manzana frente a manzano. Nada se puede asegurar’, pero el caso es quede cinco testimonios anteriores al S. XIX recogidos por Friederici y Lenz, tres corresponden al antiguo Perú (Cobo, Juan y Ulloa, Veigl), uno a Chile (Molina), uno al Norte de América del Sur (Humboldt) y ninguno a la América Central o Septentrional.

    I never thought I would ever hear the question, ‘From Quechua or Quiché?’!

  57. Thank you Xerib. I was naively thinking “from the Sanskrit” carried some sort of mark of ancientness. But it seems what’s going on is to take a vernacular word (of quite possibly recent/imported origin) and ‘retrofit’ it to Sanskrit. So the claim means nothing unless we find the Sanskrit inscribed on ancient sculptures. If anything:

    I would expect a Prakrit *āippa and perhaps a Hindi *aip(?) …

    The modern word not undergoing those regular sound changes suggests its _not_ “from Sanskrit”/not ancient. Or somebody’s made up a just-so story. Given the hostility in some quarters to anything being attributable to European initiatives, the whole field is skunked.

  58. You probably already noticed that شریفه sharīfa is indeed (one of) the Persian name. So perhaps the question is why it was called that there (and then passed on to India to join sītāphal and ātā from some Philippine language).

  59. Back to basics:
    We used to sing a song in nursery school:

    Picking up pawpaws, put them in the basket.
    Picking up pawpaws, put them in the basket.
    Picking up pawpaws, put them in the basket.
    Way down yonder in the pawpaw patch.

    Repeat ad nauseam.

    Pawpaws grew in profusion in South Africa but to me they always tasted slightly of vomit.

  60. Trond Engen says

    @eliza: I’m pretty sure that’s the song I learned during my short stint as a folkdancer as a child as:

    Hvor er vel den søte lille Mette
    Hvor er vel den søte lille Mette
    Hvor er vel den søte lille Mette
    Ute i den store grønne jordbæreng.

    Sung in Norwegian, as reflected in the orthography, but to my 9-year-old ear clearly Danish, both because of the syntax and the pun Mette “girl’s name, originally a short form of Margrete” ~ mette “fill, fullness, satisfaction (of food)”.

    Also clearly not old, because it goes on with

    Kom an boys, henne må vi finne …

    Googling right now I learn that it as expected does exist in Denmark, but apparently obscure — and weirdly not in the form with the pun,

    Pawpaws grew in profusion in South Africa but to me they always tasted slightly of vomit.

    I just realized that earlier today I overheard my half Thai colleague describe a very popular fruit (in Thailand) that to him reeked like “a garbage can in the summer heat”. I was focused on something else and hardly processed the information until now. I may have missed an opportunity to obtain information relevant to this thread.

  61. Probably talking about durian.

  62. Although my version was pretty basic, there are a few versions on youtube. Here’s one of them.

  63. Lars Mathiesen (he/him/his) says


    Hvor er nu den søde lille Nellie x 3
    Ude i det store grønne jordbærbed
    Come on, boys, hende må vi finde x 3
    Ude i det store grønne jordbærbed

    I remember it from long long ago, but it was never really canon as these things go. But still alive; Youtube has it on a compilations from 2023 as well. There are no music or text credits that I can quickly find, but it doesn’t feel like something that is too old for copyright.

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