It’s finally starting to feel like summer; time for sipping fruit smoothies in the sunshine, generous factor 30-ing and complaining that it’s too hot. I, for one, have indulged in a spot of light European gallivanting this month, to Italy, Germany, back to the Netherlands and I’ll be moving to Oxford at the weekend. If you pick up anything from spending unhealthy amounts of time on the road, it’s the little oddities and discrepancies between languages that, geographically-speaking, aren’t so far apart.

One such curiosity is that quintessential summer fruit and obligatory piña colada ingredient: the pineapple. Looking at the map, it would appear that English missed a memo somewhere.

Of course, the pineapple is an exotic fruit and is indigenous to South America, originating from somewhere between southern Brazil and Paraguay. It spread across the continent and was cultivated by the Mayans and the Aztecs. When Columbus travelled to Guadaloupe in 1493, he came across the fruit and called it the piña de Indes, meaning ‘pineapple of the Indians’.

However, although Columbus brought the pineapple we recognise today back with him, the word pineapple was actually first recorded in 1398, some 100 years earlier. So had the fruit actually been in Britain all along?

Unsurprisingly, that’s not the case. This is a great example of how language change eventually makes the origins of many words opaque.

The word pineapple originally denoted the reproductive organs of conifer tress, what we call today pine cones. Except pine cone didn’t come into the language until the 1690s to replace pineapple. So when European explorers brought the fruit to Britain, everyone figured it looked pretty much like a pine cone and went on to name it as such.

The rest of the world, on the other hand, says ananas. This word stems from nanas, an indigenous Tupi term meaning ‘excellent fruit’.

I’ll leave you with this little joke that’s been popping up on the web:

– Sir, we’ve found this and we need you to name it.

– Pineapple.

– But we figured we might as well just call it ‘ananas’ since the majority of the world refers to it as-

– Pineapple.

– But sir-

– Pine. Apple.


Picnics and Barbecues

Since the UK has been enjoying (or suffering, depending on how you look at it) a heat wave over the past few weeks, strawberries and instant barbecues have no doubt been selling by the bucket load. But not only is the current weather considerably un-British, but barbecue doesn’t sound particularly home-grown either.

One folk etymology suggests that the word is a compound of two French words: barbe, meaning ‘beard’, and queue, meaning ‘tail’. It supposedly comes from hog roasts, when the whole pig is roasted from head (or beard) to tail.

Unfortunately, this story isn’t true. In reality, the word is much more exotic, originating in the Caribbean in the Haitian language of Arawakan. It was originally in reference to a framework of sticks, which would be used to sleep on or to cure meat. The Spanish borrowed it from the Haitians first with barbacoa before it passed into English in the 1650s. By 1733, it was used to mean an outdoor social gathering where fish or meat would be roasted. It finally developed the sense we know now, a grill for cooking over an open fire outdoors, by 1931.

Another summer word that we’ve borrowed is picnic. This time, the word comes from a closer holiday destination: France, from their word, pique-nique. It was used from 1694 and referred to any meal where everybody contributed food or money.

The first part is easy to understand. Pique, like our pick, means to eat by small amounts. As for the nique part, it might just be a catchy reduplication of pique or it might come from the word nique meaning ‘worthless thing’. The chances are it’s a bit of both options with pique-nique therefore meaning a meal of various small items. Picnic arrived in English by 1748 but it did not become particularly popular until around 1800.

So we can’t lay claim to either barbecue or picnic. Clearly, we’re just not the nation for al fresco dining