Monday, December 1, 2008


I'm not much of one for annual events, such as national or religious holidays. I might manage a teetotaler's Bloomsday some years. There was a Hangul Day post last year, but that is more a commemoration than a celebration.

But the gift-giving season is when retailers stock up, particularly on items aimed at children. So that is when I am the lookout for some of the things we collect.

To keep posts here from becoming too formulaic, this will be another short and superficial picture post, covering one such collection. Plastic Alphabet Magnets.

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Upon reflection, there seems to be an attraction to magnets in general, whether it is a specimen of magnetite, classic bar and ring magnets, stronger neodymium magnets, or those construction toys with magnetic rods and steel balls.

For rare books, the library copy or a PDF is often enough. But we do happen to have a copy of Athanasius Kircher's Magnes, sive de arte magnetica. (The library with an online copy listed in the texts in that Wikipedia article actually has more of his works than just those listed.) As far as I know, this is the only book we own to ever be featured on the wonderful BibliOdyssey site.

Here is a basic uppercase Roman set:

I am certain that such sets exist with accents and umlauts, but I haven't found them around here. (Despite what people may claim, I haven't even seen one with an Ñ.)

The Cyrillic set I found is made of foam rubber, not plastic, so the photo isn't as shiny:

(I probably cheated making a Й from a И and one of the minus signs.)

The Greek set has complete Greek and Roman alphabets, in both upper- and lower-case. Even the uppercase that are roughly the same shape are distinguished by choosing a somewhat different font for the two:

The Devanagari only has the independent form of the vowels:

It is actually designed here in Boston (see this article), suggesting that much of the market is expat parents and especially grandparents.

I imagine the biggest seller through the grandparent channel would be the Hebrew:

No vowel points, but extra matres lectionis.

The Hangul consists of four complete sets of consonants and reorientable vowels, in four different colors:

(With four ㅏㅓㅗㅜ pieces, but only three ㅑㅕㅛㅠ pieces.) The company that makes these has arithmetic and Roman, too, not surprisingly. (Note how the product name 한글 자석놀이 'Hangul magnet fun' is written out on the magnetic memo-board on that page.)

For Arabic, a rather different approach is called for:

The pieces are color-coded for letters with similar behaviors. When connected, the pieces attach; when not, a tail attaches instead. The kāf rotates around to its final form. The lām + ʼalif mandatory ligature is made by flipping the second letter from behind. Fortunately, I don't need to describe it all, because the product's site goes into details.

I assume more of these exist, but I have not come across them yet. I should make this post even more relevant to the blog by including some photos of vegetable fridge magnets. But the issue is that our fridge has too much nickel in its stainless and isn't magnetic (I took the Frigits and Pendumonium into the office), so I have to locate them first and it seems best not to hold up a year-end post into late January. I will update when they show up.

Saturday, November 1, 2008


Boston still has a number of used book stores, surviving, though perhaps not thriving, despite the internet, in which browsing almost always uncovers something worthwhile. And, of course, those same online dealers, while offering less serendipity, can be used to track down a particular work referenced elsewhere.

John Hill Burton, the Scottish historian, wrote in The Book-Hunter (p. 101):

The possession, or, in some other shape, the access to a far larger collection of books than can be read through in a lifetime, is in fact an absolute condition of intellectual culture and expansion.

And a couple pages on gives an image of classic works of compilation (p. 103):

There are those terrible folios of the scholastic divines, the civilians, and the canonists, their majestic stream of central print overflowing into rivulets of marginal notes sedgy with citations.

Nowadays, these are footnotes and end notes, or in a less formal medium like this, hyperlinks.

A used book find ideally suited to the purpose of this blog is Ginger: A Loan-Word Study (snippet view), by Alan S. C. Ross.

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Alan Strode Campbell Ross also wrote a book on Pitcairnese, the creole descending from the Bounty mutineers and their Tahitian wives. He is best remembered for his study of U and non-U English: an essay with that title is included among the collection by Nancy Mitford in Noblesse Oblige: An Enquiry into the Identifiable Characteristics of the English Aristocracy. It is a condensed and simplified version (and not a reprint as Wikipedia implies) of the paper “Linguistic class-indicators in present-day English,” which appeared in 1954 in Neuphilologische Mitteilungen and is among those reprinted for the 120th anniversary issue last year, which are available online here. More recently, he has caused a lexicographic mystery by having referred to taboo words as mumfordish in a 1934 review of the OED that also appeared in that journal: the question being, who is Mumford? (See discussion at Language Log and Language Hat.)

The framework of Ross's Ginger book begins with a passage from the 1414 Records of the Grocers' Company:

Auxi tout le Gynger quest faux colore Columbyn et auxibien Maykyn il fuist colore en le color de Belendyn.

Also all the ginger which is falsely coloured columbyn, and maykyn as well, was coloured the colour of belendyn.

Then, following Heyd, a passage from Pegolotti (the text of which is apparently not online):

Giengiovo si è di più maniere, cioè belledi e colombino et micchino, …

Ginger is of several sorts, viz. belledi and colombino and micchino.

Pegolotti explains that colombino comes from Colombo (Quilon / Kollam കൊല്ലം, perhaps 'high ground') and micchino from Mecca. (The Ménagier de Paris has gingembre de mesche et gingembre coulombin, though it offers the exact opposite conclusion as Pegolotti for which is easier to cut. Note also that Power's translation 'string ginger' is incorrect.)

And a couplet from John Russell's Boke of Nurture:

For good gynger colombyne / is best to drynke and ete;
Gynger valadyne & maydelyn̄ ar not so holsom in mete.

Which is explained by the OED, “ginger colombyne (quot. c1460), ginger from Quilon (L. Columbum); g. valadyne and g. maydelyn, mentioned in the same quot., have not been identified.

So, with two of the kinds identified, the etymological questions that remain are ginger itself and beledi.

An old Language Hat post covered the outline of the ginger etymology, but none of the comments brought up Ross's book (also, one of the links given has moved to here). Another good place to start for ginger is the entry in Hobson-Jobson (which Ross cites in a footnote).

Ginger originates in tropical Asia; the exact location is not known for certain, as it is generally not found wild. (Schumann — see also here, pg. 172 — and Lauterbach report two possible finds in the Bismarck Archipelago: by Warburg at Mioko, in what are now the Duke of York Islands — see here; and by Dahl at Ralum, in East New Britain. I suspect more modern experts place the origin further north.) It was cultivated throughout Asia early on.

Ginger was known to the Greeks and Romans. For instance, Dioscorides:

ζιγγίβερι ἴδιον ἐστι φυτόν, γεννώμενον ἐν τῇ Τρωγλοδυτικῇ 〈καὶ〉 Ἀραβίᾳ πλεῖστον, οὗ χρῶνται τῇ χλόῃ εἰς πολλά, καθάπερ ἡμεῖς τῷ πηγάνῳ, ἕψοντες εἰς προποτισμοὺς καὶ εἰς ἑψήματα μίσγονστες. ἔστι δὲ ῥιζία μικρά, ὥσπερ κυπέρου, ὑπόλευκα , πεπερίζοντα τῇ γεύσει εὐώδη· ἐκλέγου δὲ τὰ ἀτερηδόνιστα. (II. 160)

Ginger is a peculiar plant, growing for the most part in Trogodytica and Arabia; the green part of it is used for many purposes, just as we use rue, boiling in drinks and mixing into boiled dishes. It is small rootlets, like the root of galingale, whitish, peppery tasting, and fragrant. Choose the ones that are not worm-eaten.

Note that Wellmann supplies a missing conjunction, “Troglodytica and Arabia,” but Beck translates the text as given, “Troglodytic Arabia.” On ancient confusion between Trogodytae / Troglodytae and troglodytes, see an old Language Hat discussion and the paper in JSTOR to which it links.

And Pliny, in a passage quoted more extensively in the long pepper post:

28. Non est hujus arboris radix, ut aliqui existimavere, quod vocant zingiberi, alii vero zimpiberi, quanquam sapore simili. Id enim in Arabia atque Trogodytica in villis nascitur, parvæ herbæ, radice candida. …

29. … Utrumque silvestre gentibus suis est et tamen pondere emitur ut aurum vel argentum. … (Book XII, Chap. 14 / 7)

28. The root of this tree is not, as many persons have imagined, the same as the substance known as zimpiberi, or, as some call it, zingiberi, or ginger, although it is very like it in taste. For ginger, in fact, grows in Arabia and in Troglodytica, in various cultivated spots, being a small plant with a white root. …

29. … Both pepper and ginger grow wild in their respective countries, and yet here we buy them by weight--just as if they were so much gold or silver. … (tr. Bostock & Riley)

Isidore of Seville knew that it also came from further east:

Traditur etiam alia species cyperi, quae in India nascitur et appellatur lingua eorum zinziber. (XVII.ix.8)

There is also said to be another kind of galingale, which grows in India and is called in their language ginger.

Marco Polo evidently found ginger at Kollam:

Good ginger grows here, and it is known by the same name of Coilumin after the country. (tr. Yule)

(See also Yule's note concerning the main theme of this discussion, the three varieties of ginger. I am not certain which manuscript this sentence comes from, since Yule edited together a number of them. It is not any of the ones I can find online, such as Ramusio, Il Milione, or the Geographic Text.) And Malabar:

In questa regione v'è grandissima copia di pevere, zenzero e cubebe e noci d'India. (Ramusio, Lib. 3, Cap. 28; cf. Il Milione, Cap. 179)

There is in this kingdom a great quantity of pepper, and ginger, [and cinnamon, and turbit,] and of nuts of India. (tr. Yule)

and in China:

E quivi nasce zenzero in gran quantità, il qual si porta per tutta la provincia del Cataio, con grande utilità de' mercanti; … (Lib. 2, Cap. 35)

I may tell you that in this province [Acbalec Manzi], there grows such a great quantity of ginger, that it is carried all over the region of Cathay, and it affords a maintenance to all the people of the province, who get great gain thereby. (tr. Yule)

(On the identification of Acbalec Manzi, see Paul Pelliot's Notes on Marco Polo, a portion of which is scanned here: he concludes that it must be 漢中 (Hanzhong), as Yule suspected.)

Monardes says that Francisco de Mendoza brought ginger to the new world:

Don Franciſco de Mendoça hijo del Virey don Antonio de Mendoça, ſembro en Nueua Eſpaña Clauo, Pimenta, Gengibre, y otras Eſpecias, delas que traen dela India Oriental: per dioſe aquel negocio por ſu muerte, ſolo quedo el Gengibre, porque naſcio muy bien en aquellas partes, y aſsi lo traen verde de Nueua Eſpaña y otras partes de nueſtras Indias, y ſeco del modo de lo dela India. (p. 99)

Don Francis de Mendosa, Sonne vnto the vice Roy Don Anthony de Mendoſa, did ſow in the new Spayne Cloaues, Peper, Ginger, and other ſpices, of thoſe which are brought from the Oriental Indias, and that which by him was begun, was loſt, by reaſon of his death, onely the Ginger did remayne, for it grew very well in thoſe partes, and ſo they bring it greene from the new Spayne, and other partes of our Indias, and ſome they bring drie, after the maner of that of the Eaſt India. (tr. Frampton)

And by the end of the century Acosta could report (in the chapter quoted in full in the chili post):

El jengibre se trajo de la India a la Española, y ha multiplicado de suerte que ya no saben qué hacerse de tanto jengibre, porque en la flota del año de ochenta y siete se trajeron veinte y dos mil cincuenta y tres quintales de ello a Sevilla. (Vol. I, Chap. XX)

The ginger was carried from the Indies to Hiſpaniola, and it hath multiplied ſo, as at this day they know not what to do with the great aboundaunce they have. In the fleete the yeare 1587. they brought 22053. quintalls of ginger to Seville: (tr. Grimeston)

Most of the European words for 'ginger' derive from Latin zingiberi and so from Greek ζιγγίβερις. Medieval Latin forms included gingiberzinziber, and zinzaber. So, Italian gengiovo and zenzero (zenzevero, zenzovero), from which Maltese ġinġer. Spanish jengibre, Catalan gingebre, Portuguese gengibre, Galacian xenxibre; The Spanish and Catalan also occur with an initial a-, perhaps because of some Arabic influence (cf. azúcar 'sugar').

Old French gingibre > gingimbre > Modern French gingembre (Littré), Provencal gingebre (e.g., here) > gengibre / gingimbre. We owe fairly precise dating of an early Old French occurrence to Thomas Becket's austerity. Shortly after Becket's murder, Guernes de Pont-Sainte-Maxence wrote a biography, between 1172 and 1174. Of his diet, he says:

Le meilliur vin useit qu’il trover poeit,
Mes pur le fruit ventrail eschaufer le beveit,
Kar le ventrail aveit, et le cors, forment freit.
Gingibre et mult girofle pur eschaufer mangiet;
Nepurquant tut adés l’ewe ou le vin mesleit. (from the Harleian manuscript version, in Project Margot's corpus, here; oddly enough, Bekker's 1844 edition of this MS hasn't been scanned; his 1838 edition of the Wolfenbüttel MS has been, here; and Hippeau's 1859 of the Paris MS, here. See here for a quick summary. As expected, these differ somewhat in spelling.)

He used to drink the best wine he could get, but this was so as to warm his cold stomach (for his stomach and body were always exceedingly cold; he used to eat ginger and clove by handfuls). None the less, he always drank his wine watered. (tr. Shirley)

(I have not found any sign of this specific detail in Guernes' Latin sources in Migne.)

Old English gingifer (< gingiber) occurs in Bald's Leechbook (e.g., ii, 56). And Lacnunga (iii, 72):

…  ı cýmen ⁊ coſ ⁊ pıpe ⁊ inia ⁊ hƿı cuu …

… that is to say, cummin and costmary and pepper and ginger and gum mastich ('white cud'); …

This gives Middle English gingivere (with influence from Old French gingivre). So, in Laȝamon's Brut (v. 2, p. 320, Calig., ll. 9-10):

& gingiuere & licoriz:
he hom lefliche ȝef.

and ginger and licorice he gave them lovingly.

And the Ancrene Riwle (p. 416):

Of mon þet ȝe misleueð ne nime ȝe nouðer lesse ne more — nout so much þet beo a rote gingiure.

Of a man whom ye distrust, receive ye neither less nor more — not so much as a race of ginger.

(Notice that the other occurrence of ginger in this work concerns a holy man who ate hot spices for his cold stomach; see below.)

Gaelic dinnsear, Irish sinséar, Welsh sinsir, Manx jinshar are from Middle English.

Some of the forms for the continental West Germanic languages are Frisian gimber (and gingber-woartel 'ginger-root'); Middle Dutch gincbere > Modern Dutch gember; Old High German gingibere > Middle High German ingewer > Standard German Ingwer; Middle Low German engever > Low German engeber, Mennonite Low German Enjwa. But both Low and High German have forms with the initial g the other way: OHG inguͥber, MHG gingebere, modern dialectal High German ginfer, MLG gingeber, Low German gemware. For a discussion of this phenomenon, Ross points to an early work by Wilhelm Horn. The Scandinavian are from Low German: Swedish ingefära, whence Finnish inkivääri; Norwegian ingefær = Danish ingefær, whence Icelandic engifer.

Slovenian ingver, Estonian ingver and Latvian ingvers and are all from German. Russian инби́рь, Belarusian імбір, Ukranian імбир, and Polish imbir are from a dialectal High German imber; Lithuanian imbieras is from Polish. Hungarian gyömbér (earlier gyumbier, Giomwer, gengber) is from Latin zingiber; Slovak ďumbier and Serbian / Croatian / Bosnian đumbir / ђумбир and Romanian ghimbir are from it. Czech zázvor is from Italian.

Finnegans Wake works a number of those European cognates into puns (182:5-10):

(he would touch at its from time to other, the red eye of his fear in saddishness, to ensign the colours by the beerlitz in his mathness and his educandees to outhue to themselves in the cries of girlglee: gember! inkware! chonchambre! cinsero! zinnzabar! tincture and gin!)

Modern Greek has invented πιπερόριζα 'pepper-root'. The Greek ζιγγίβερι comes from some Middle Indic source, such as Pali singivera. To this corresponds the Sanskrit शृङ्गवेर śṛṅgavera. The traditional etymology for the Old Indic word is from शृङ् śṛṅga 'horn' (cf. English horn itself), on the grounds that the ginger rhizome resembles one, and this can still be found in dictionaries as the source of a European 'ginger' word without qualification. *vēr is a common Dravidian root for 'root', such as Tamil வேர்; it occurs in some Dravidian peanut words. And a number of Dravidian ginger words also have a similar phonetic shape, such as Tamil இஞ்சி iñci and Malayalam ഇഞ്ചി iñci. So it is likely the source is Dravidian.

Caldwell argued in favor of such a Dravidian source, citing a printed exchange between the two authors of Hobson-Jobson, Yule and Burnell. Yule asks, of the Arbor Zingitana (see below), “Can it be ginger? A Sanskrit etymology is assigned to the word zingiber, …” And Burnell replies, giving mostly the argument that ends up in Hobson-Jobson, and concluding:

If we look at the form of the Sanskrit word, it is impossible to doubt that it is a foreign word altered by the Brahmans, who, by their pedantry, disguise all they meddle with.

Which is a Victorian's way of saying that the exact form of the loanword is altered by folk etymology to resemble śṛṅga. For a modern summary, proposing specifically a Proto-Dravidian *cinki-vēr (loss of initial *c- is a normal change), see here.

Burnell also makes parenthetic reference to Colebrooke's edtion of Amarakosha. This entry reads (II, Chap. IX, sl. 37; another edition, with Sanskrit commentary, is here):

आर्द्रकं शृङ्गवेरं (स्यात्)

ārdrakaṃ śṛṅgaveraṃ (syāt)

undried-ginger ginger (may be)

आर्द्रक ārdraka is ginger is its fresh, undried, state. The long pepper post described त्रिकटु trikaṭu 'three pungents', a equal mixture of पिप्पली pippalī 'long pepper', मरिच marica 'black pepper' and शुण्ठी śuṇṭhī 'dried ginger'. Both forms of ginger are included in the long list in Chap. XLVI of the Sutra-sthana in the Suśruta Samhita (non-Unicode / no copy PDFs here), right after the two peppers:

नागरं कफवातघ्न विपाके मधुरं कटु ॥
वृष्योष्णं रोचनं हृद्यं सस्नेहं लघु दीपनम ॥२२६॥
कफानिलहरं स्वर्यं विबन्धानाहशूलनुत् ॥
कटूष्णं रोचनं हृद्यं वृष्यं चैवार्द्रकं स्मृतम् ॥२२७॥

nāgaraṃ kaphavātaghnaṃ vipāke madhuraṃ kaṭu
vṛṣyoṣṇaṃ rocanaṃ hṛdyaṃ sasnehaṃ laghu dīpanam
kaphānilaharaṃ svaryaṃ vibandhānāhaśūlanut
kaṭūṣṇaṃ rocanaṃ hṛdyaṃ vṛṣyaṃ caivārdrakaṃ smṛtam

Dry ginger pacifies phlegm and wind; in vipāka, it is sweet but pungent;
it is a warm aphrodisiac, stimulates the appetite, is savory, affectionate, easily digested, and stimulating.
Fresh ginger cures disorders from phlegm and wind, is beneficial to voice, removes constipation;
it is appetizing, savory, and aphrodisiac just like dry ginger.

(शुण्ठी śuṇṭhī, नागर nāgara and कटूष्ण kaṭūṣṇa all mean 'dried ginger'.)

Cognates with singivera do not survive in the Modern Indic languages as the ordinary word for 'ginger', except for Sinhalese ඉඟුරු iñguru. Instead, words derived from Sanskrit आर्द्रक ārdraka / शुण्ठी śuṇṭhī are used, so distinguishing green and dried ginger. For instance, Hindi अदरक adrak / सोंठ soṅṭh, Urdu ادرک adrak / سونٿهہ soṅṭh, Bengali আদা ādā / শুঁঠ śun̐ṭha, Marathi आले āle / सुंठ suṇṭh, Punjabi ਅਦਰਕ adrak / ਸੂੰਢ sūnḍh, Gujarati આદું ādu / સૂંઠ sūṇṭh, Oriya ଅଦା adā / ଶୁଣ୍ଠି śuṇṭhi, Pushto ادرک adrak / سونډ sūnḍ. Some Dravidian languages make the same distinction, borrowing the word for 'dried ginger': Tamil எல்லம் ellam / சுண்டி cuṇṭi, Telugu అల్లము allamu / శొంటి śoṇṭi, Kannada ಅಲ್ಲ alla / ಶುಂಠಿ śuṇṭhi.

Dravidian *cinki may be a loanword. Arguing in the JRAS (1905, p. 167ff) against the Dravidian source proposed by Hobson-Jobson, and taken up by the OED, F. W. Thomas points out some other Asian words for 'ginger' with the same overall phonetic shape. Burrow (here and here, some decades later, as he wasn't born until 1909) is careful to separate out the two arguments: that the Sanskrit (and so by descent most European words) is a loan from Dravidian, which is now generally accepted; and that the Dravidian may be a loan from some common South Asian source. In this case, the other possible cognates include: Classical Chinese ki̯ang (薑, 葁, 姜; Mandarin jiang1; Cantonese goeng1), Vietnamese gừng, Thai ขิง khĭng, Lao ຂີງ khīng, Burmese ချင်း gjin:, Khmer ខ្ញី khñi.

The Middle Indic form also passed into Middle Iranian, such as Pahlavi sangiwēl (Ross transliterates singaβēr), Sogdian snkrpyl. From there to Aramaic zangəbīl ܙܢܓܒܝܠ / זַנְגְּבִיל, and so to Modern Hebrew זַנְגְּבִיל zangvîl. And from Aramaic to Arabic زَنْجَبِیلْ zanǧabīl. Turkish زنجبيل / zencefil came from Arabic.  Persian شنکلیل šankalīl developed from Pahlavi, but زنجبيل zanjabīl was also borrowed from Arabic. And Modern Syriac ܙܢܓܦܝܠ zanjâpîl was from Turkish. From Turkish, Kurdish zenjefíl, and further away, Albanian xhenxhefil, Bulgarian джинджифил, Georgian ჯანჯაფილი janjapili. Classical Armenian սնգրուէղ sngrvēł came from Aramaic, but Modern Armenian has կոճապղպեղ kočapġpeġ 'ankle-pepper', as well as զանջաֆիլ zanǰafil from Turkish and իմբիր imbir from Russian. The Ethiopic languages required some minor adjustments to the Arabic loan to fit their phonology: Amharic ዝንጅብል zənǧəbəl, ዝንጅበር zənǧəbär; Tingrinya ጅንጅብል ǧənǧəbəl; Gurage: Wolane ዝንጅብል zənǧəbəl, Selti ጃንጅብል ǧanǧəbəl, Aymellel ጅንጅብል ǧənǧəbəl.

The Babylonian Talmud contains several references to ginger. Shabbat 65a (daf; translation): in a discussion of rules for women, specifically what she can keep in her mouth on the Sabbath, provided she put it in before its start and doesn't put it back if it falls out, the Gemara clarifies the Mishnah וכל דבר שנותנת לתוך פיה wəkāl dāḇār šenôṯeneṯ ləṯôḵə fiyhā 'and all things permitted in her mouth' as זנגבילא אי נמי דרצונא zanḡəbîlâ ʼî nēmî dirṣônâ 'ginger and cinnamon', that is, breath freshener. Pesahim 42b (daf; looser translation): exceptions to the general rule that what's good for the eyes is bad for the heart and vice-versa include מזנגבילא רטיבא ופילפלי mazanḡəbîlâ raṭīb wəpîlplî 'moist ginger and pepper'. And Berakhot 36b (daf; translation):

אַמְרֵי לֵיהּ רַבָּנָן לִמְרֵימָר כַּס זַנְגְּבִילָא בְּיוֹמָא דְּכִפּוּרֵי פָּטוּר וְהָא אָמַר רָבָא הַאי הֵמַלְתָּא דְּאַתְיָא מִבֵּי הִנְדּוּאֵי שַׁרְיָא וּמְבָרְכִין עֲלֵיהּ בפה״א לֹא קַשְׁיָא הָא בִּרְטִיבְתָּא הָא בִּיבִשְׁתָּא

ʼamərê lêh rabānān li-mərêmār kas zangəbîlâ bəyômâ dəkipûrê pāṭûr wəhâ ʼāmar rābâ haʼy hēmaltâ dəʼatyâ mibê hindûʼê šaryâ ûmbārkîn ʻălêh b.p.h. [bore pri ha‑adamah] lōʼ qašyâ hâ birṭîbətâ hâ bîbištâ

The rabbis said this to Meremar: a cup of ginger1 on Yom Kippur — exemption. And doesn't Raba say this: ginger2, which comes from India, — permitted; and we say a blessing over it, “Who has created the fruit of the earth”; there is no contradiction: one is moist, the other dry.

CAL glosses hmltʼ as just 'ginger', but it is clear from context that as elsewhere a basic distinction is being made on dried vs. not (with the additional complication of processing by heathens of potential food), so the Soncino translator goes with 'preserved ginger'.

From Judeo-French glosses to these passages, Darmesteter reconstructed jenjevre as the Old French form in Rashi's time.

Ginger occurs in the Quran as the flavor of Salsabil, a fountain in paradise (Al-Insan 17):

وَيُسْقَوْنَ فِيهَا كَأْسًا كَانَ مِزَاجُهَا زَنْجَبِيلا
عَيْنًا فِيهَا تُسَمَّى سَلْسَبِيلا

wa-yusqawna fīhā kaʾsā kāna mizāǧuhā zanǧabīlā
ʿaynā fīhā tusammā salsabīlā

There are they watered with a cup whereof the mixture is of Zanjabil,
(The water of) a spring therein, named Salsabil. (tr. Pickthall)

(About which Burton cannot keep himself from footnoting, “which to the Infidel mind unpleasantly suggests ‘ginger pop’.” Ginger is also apparently mentioned by the Jahiliyyah poet al-A'sha, but I have not found his work online or a copy / scan of Geyer's Zwei Gedichte.) Jeffery's The Foreign Vocabulary of the Qur'an (s.v.) derives the Arabic from Syriac and thence back into Persian; the Syriac he derives from Pahlavi.

A folk etymology aiming to avoid non-Arabic roots (e.g., here; or Maulana Muhammad Ali's 1917 translation, p. 1144, n. 2628) derives زنجبيل zanǧabīl from زنأ zanʾ a 'to mount' (> زنى zanā  'commit adultery'), so 'ascend a mountain', and جبل ǧabal 'mountain'. The idea being that ginger invigorates so that one can climb mountains.

Confusion arises between زنجبيل zanǧabīl and Zanzibar < زَنْجَبَار zanǧabār 'coast of the Blacks (Zingi)'. So Hobson-Jobson points to a “shajr al-Zānij” (شجر الزانج) from India (arbor Zengitana — Gildemeister, p. 218) and Reinaud's identification of Abulfeda's “plant of Zinj” (“arbre du Zendj” — I cannot find the Arabic text) with ginger. And to the legend “Zinc et ideo Zinziber” on the map in Marino Sanudo's Liber secretorum fidelium crusis (c. 1320). This map is now known to have been drawn by Pietro Vesconte; see here; the images there are too small to read anything, but see the zoomable scan here from the Bongars' 1611 printed edition or this scan of a manuscript version. Still, it seems that this could just be a coincidence and referring only to Zanzibar and not ginger at all.

Another attempt at making ginger a toponym is based on some place named Gingi, for which there seem to be two candidates: Gingee, inland from Pondicherry in Tamil Nadu; and a place in China, though I haven't seen any specific location given. One source for the India theory seems to be Lamarck's Encyclopédie méthodique, from which it was picked up by Théis, Chaumeton and Thomson. Even the 4th Edition Encyclopædia Britannica s.v. Botany (not all the volumes are there, so I cannot tell who wrote this quite extensive article; perhaps James Edward Smith), “As it is very plentiful on the mountains of Gingi, ſome ſuppoſe that from this circumſtance the name Gingiber or Zingiber was derived.” The China theory was advanced by Philips and noted by Ainslie. It was picked up by an 1852 revision of Webster's Dictionary and included in Dr. Irving's catechism of general knowledge, by a Cambridge M.A.:

Q. What is ginger?
A. It is the root of a plant so called from Gingi, in China, and cultivated in great quantities in the West Indies, especially in Jamaica. It has a pungent, aromatic odour, and a hot, biting taste. (p. 16-17)

The Gingi theory is proposed by some of the European dictionaries cited above and it is still possible to see it in modern food reference works (for instance, here).

Ross quotes a number of accounts by explorers in support of the Malabar Coast as a source of ginger. For instance, Ibn-Battuta:

والفلفل والزنجبيل بها كثير جدا. (iv, 80)

wa-al-filfil wa-az-zanǧabīl bi-hā kaṯīr ǧadā.

pepper and ginger are very abundant there [Mangalore].

And Niccolò da Conti:

Collicuthiam deinceps petiit, urbem maritimam, octo millibus passuum ambitu, nobile totius Indiae emporium, pipere, lacca, gingibere, cinnamomo crassiore, kebulis, zedoaria fertilis. (From De Varietate Fortunae, Kunstmann, p. 48)

He next proceeded to Calicut, a maritime city, eight miles in circumference, a noble emporium for all India, abounding in pepper, lac, ginger, a larger kind of cinnamon, myrobalans, and zedoary. (tr. Jones)

And Athanasius Nikitin's A Journey Beyond the Three Seas:

А Келекотъ же есть пристанище Индѣйскаго моря всего, а проити его не дай Богъ никакову кестяку, а кто его не увидить, тотъ поздорову не проидеть моремъ; а родится въ немъ перець, да зеньзебиль, да цвѣтъ, да мошкатъ, да каланфуръ, да корица, да гвозникы, да пряное коренье, да адрякъ, да всякого коренья родится въ немъ много, да все въ немъ дешево, да кулъ да калавашь письяръ хубь сія. (From here. The version linked to by Wikipedia, here, mostly differs within the bounds of the varia noted, except that it has fewer Ь's and Ъ's; I don't know whether they were absent in some early edition or left out of the transcription at some point. Yet another version is here, with similar differences. Search also finds a study of the work from the middle of the 19th century.)

Calecot (Calicut) is a port for the whole Indian sea, which God forbid any craft to cross, and whoever saw it will not go over it healthy. The country produces pepper, ginger, colour plants, muscat, cloves, cinnamon, aromatic roots, adrach [fresh ginger — see above] and every description of spices, and everything is cheap, and the servants and maids are very good. (tr. Wielhorsky)

Another other similar accounts:

And similarly for Kollam. So, Odoric of Pordenone:

A capite nemoris istius versus meridiem civitas quaedam habetur nomine Polumbum in qua nascitur melius zinziber quod nascatur in mundo. (Yule's Cathay and the Way Thither, §16)

Poi venni a Colonbio, ch' è la migliore terra d'India per mercatanti. Quivi è il gengiovo in grande copia e del buono del mondo. (ibid.)

At the extremity of that forest towards the south, there is a certain city which is called Polumbum [Quilon], in which is grown better ginger than anywhere else in the world. (tr. Yule, from another volume in an edition only with preview.)

And da Conti, again:

Inque eo itinere mensem cum absumpsisset, totidem diebus Coloen, civitatem nobilem, venit, cujus ambitus duodecim millia passuum amplectitur. Gingiber qui colobi dicitur, piper, verzinum, cannellae, quae crassae appellantur, hac in provincia, quam vocant Melibariam, leguntur. (Kunstmann, p. 48)

In that journey, he occupied one month; and departing thence, he, in the same space of time, arrived at a noble city called Coloen, the circumference of which is twelve miles. This province is called Melibaria, and they collect in it ginger, called by the natives colobi [colombi], pepper, brazil wood, and cinnamon, which is known there by the name of crassa. (tr. Jones)

And Benjamin of Tudela (immediately following the section quoted in the long pepper post):

וְשָׁם יִמָּצֵא הַקָּנֶה וְהַזַּנְגְבִל וּמִינֵי בְשָׂמִים הַרְבֵּה (p. 91.1)

wəšām yimāṣê haqāneh wəhazangəbil ûmînê bəśāmîm harbēh

Cinnamon, Ginger and many other kinds of spices also grow in this country. [Chulam] (tr. Asher)

And some for Mecca:

  • Garcia da Orta: in the same ginger colloquy as above.
  • Vasco da Gama: Roteiro, in the same paragraph as above, where the spices are carried  to Mecca.
  • Felix Fabri: Hassler, p. 542.
  • Ibn al-Mujāwir: Sprenger, p. 133. Note that Ross's source, Sprenger, translates الزنجبيل الطرى az-zanǧabīl aṭ-ṭarīy  as eingemachter Zingiber 'preserved ginger'. The ordinary sense of طَرِىّْ ṭarīy  is 'fresh; tender'. The Quran twice (16:14, 35:12) uses لَحْمًا طَرِيًّا laḥmā ṭarīyā 'fresh meat'. Sampson (Judges 15:15) found a לְחִֽי־חֲמֹור טְרִיָּה ləḥî-ḥămôr ṭəriyyāh 'new jawbone of an ass'. Perhaps if the sense is extended to 'moist', as above in the Talmud, then the distinction is between dried and not-dried, the latter including fresh, preserved, and pickled.

The indication being that it was a clearing-house and little was actually grown there.

The great Renaissance herbals do not add much, since ginger was well known in ancient times. Gerard, for instance, repeats what Dioscorides knew, adding a discussion of the correct appearance of the plant and a note that it does not survive in the cold. His section on names only has:

Ginger is called in Latine Zinziber and Gingiber: in Greeke, Σιγγίβερις and Γιγγίβερι: In French, Gigembre (EEBO for the 1633 edition; the 1597 only has the first Latin name).

Another factor may be that the brief period of ascendency over pepper that ginger enjoyed in the late Middle Ages was concluding, things returning to the state in ancient times, as they are still in today. For abbreviated references to the major sources up to the end of the 17th century, see Sloane's catalog, which agrees with Acosta:

In Jamaica & Insulis Caribeis ubique excolitur & luxuriat.

It is cultivated and abounds everywhere in Jamaica and the Caribbean islands.

Pegolotti's belledi comes from Arabic بَلَدْ balad, meaning a 'country; city, town; village; place, community', that is, a delimited area; the adjective form is بَلَدِى baladī 'indigenous; folk-'. Applied to ginger, it could mean 'common', that is, of lesser value, or 'native (to some place)'. Since beledi ginger seems to have been considered superior, the latter is more likely, and the place in question is India or more specifically the area around Calicut. In fact, it would appear that it came to be considered the name of place there, since Gerard de Malynes's bullionist The Canker of Englands Common Wealth lists prices for “Ginger of Beledin in Calicut,” “Ginger of Mechino,” and “Ginger in conſerue.” (EEBO; modern reprint).

In Spanish, baladí now primarily means 'insignificant, trivial'. (See also the longer entry in the 1726 RAE dictionary, to which deep links don't seem possible.) Hobson-Jobson considers this analogous to country. Ross considers the varied senses of Spanish baladí and gives a series of historical quotations, not having to do with ginger.

Da Conti relates some different kinds of ginger:

His in regionibus gingiber oritur, quod belledi, gebeli et neli vulgo appelatur. (p. 37)

In these districts grows ginger, called in the language of the country beledi, gebeli, and neli. (tr. Jones)

Gebeli is, as Hobson-Jobson explains (the DSAL version does not manage the footnote; see the Google Books scan), is 'mountain' ginger, from Arabic جَبَلِي ǧabalī. Neli in the Latin is a mistake for deli; it is Dely in the Italian text. This name is explained by Barbosa:

Nel regno di Cananor vi naſce del pepe, ma non gran quantità, & è molto buono, vi naſce del gengeuo, ma non troppo buono, il qual chiamano Dely, perché naſce appreſſo il monte Dely. (Ramusio, p. 311)

In the Kingdom of Cannanore there grows pepper, but no great quantity of it, and it is very good; there grows there some ginger, but not very good, which they call Delly, because it grows near Mount Delly. (tr. Ross)

The Arab world apparently had a different three part scheme for classifying ginger. Al-Muwaffak's كتاب الأبنية عن حقائق الأدوية Kitāb al-abniyah ʻan ḥaqāʼiq al-adwiyah 'Book of [the Foundations of the Realities of] Remedies', the first Persian materia medica, s.v. زَنْجَبِیلْ zanjabīl 'ginger', reads:

زنجبیل سه جنسست صینی و زنکی و مَلِیناوی ∴ و بهتر صینی بُوَذ انکه زنکی ∴ ملیناوی کِرد باشَذ و او را زرُنبای نیز کویند (p. 137)

zanjabīl sih jinssat ṣīnī wa zangī wa melīnawī : wa bihtar ṣīnī bowaẕ ān-kih zangī : melīnawī gerd bāšaẕ wa o rā zuronbai nīz gūyand

Ginger is of three kinds: Chinese and Zanzibar and Melinawi; and the best is Chinese, then Zanzibar; Melinawi is round and they also call it Zuronbai. (cf. Achundow)

It is not clear what Melinawi refers to; Ross glosses Zuronbai as 'resembling Zingiber zerumbet'. Below, commenter Alexander suggests that Melinawi is from ملین molayyen 'lenitive/laxative/emollient' and points out that زرنبا zuruṃbā (also زرنباد zuruṃbād) could refer to 'zedoary'. Hobson-Jobson has a single entry for both zedoary and zerumbet and the confusion between them. (Steingass also defines جدوار jadwār / زدوار zadwār / ژروار zharwār as 'zedoary'.) An obsolete English word for zedoary is setwall. The other passage of the Ancrene Riwle (p. 370) mentioned above refers to, “of gingiuere ne of gedewal, ne of clou de gilofre” 'of ginger nor setwall nor cloves'.

An excerpt from Bīrūnī's Materia Medica (كتاب الصيدنة في الطب Kitāb al-Ṣaidana fi al-Ṭibb) included in Zeki Validi Togan's compilation Bīrūnī's Picture of the World reads (p. 122):

زنجبيل الرطب منه بالفارسية شنكوير … و بالطخارية شكنرفين … يجلب من ارض بربر … والمعروف عند الصيادلة انه نوعان هندى وزنجى ويقال له الصينى ايضاً – ابو حنيفة : ينبت فى ارياف ارض عمان … واجوده الزنجى والصينى.

zanǧabīl ar-raṭbu min-hu bil-fārisīyahi šnkwyr … wa bil-ṭuḫārīyahi šknrfyn yuǧlab mina arḍi barbari … wal-maʿrūf ʿinda aṣ-ṣayādilahi ainnahu nawʿāni hindīy wa-zanǧīy wa-yuqālu la-hu aṣ-ṣīnīy ʾayḍʼa – abū ḥanīfah yanbutu fī aryāfi arḍi ʿumāna … wa-ʾaǧwadu-hu az-zanǧīy waṣ-ṣīnīy.

ginger fresh, for the Persians šnkwyr and for the Tocharians šknrfyn (šnkrfyr?; I don't know whether this is a misprint in the inexpensive edition and don't have ready access to a newer one) … it is brought from barbarian territory … and it is well known among druggists that there are two kinds, Indian and African, and there is also said to be a Chinese one - Abū Ḥanīfah: it grows in rural territory of Omān … and the best of it is the African and the Chinese.

None of the three categories given in Alfonso de Palencia's 1490 Universal vocabulario en latín y en romance (evidently modeled after emerging Latin-French dictionaries ― see here and here) are clear:

Zinziber. genera habet tria, Menagloſſa, Tangetes, ⁊ leptoſilax.Zinziber. es de tres maneras, Menagloſſa, Tangetes, Et leptoſilax.

(Note that there are two Zinziber entries and this first one is out of alphabetical order.) Up until this post, a Google Books snippet of Ross is the only search hit for leptosilax.

Ross's monograph ends with three specialized indices: of words cited by language, of places named with latitude and longitude, and of authorities quoted. Many, but not all, of the ginger words have already been given above. More can be found at M.M.P.N.D., Gernot Katzer's Spice Pages and Wiktionary. To all these, one more will be added here: Yoruba atalẹ̀. A number of African 'ginger' words (see here) are loans from Arabic, like Swahili tangawizi; or from English, like Zulu ujinji, Xhosa ijinjala, Igbo jinja. I believe this is from ata 'pepper' + ilẹ̀ 'earth'. (On the open vowel diacritic, see the peanut2 post.)

The next entry in that old dictionary raises an unrelated question. It is ilẹ-aiye 'world', as though 'earth' + 'earth', which certainly isn't inconceivable. Now ile, with a different vowel, is 'house'. And I have usually seen the three worlds of Yoruba cosmology explained as ilé-ọ̀run 'sky-house', so 'heaven'; ilẹ̀ 'earth'; and ilé-aiyé 'earth-house', so the habitable world. See, for instance, this paper. Furthermore, the term has been taken over by Ilê Aiyê, the first bloco afro, and Îlé Aiyé (The House of Life), a David Byrne film. (It seems e would be ê and é.) But sometimes it appears as ilẹ-aiye, such as here. To further confuse matters, the more modern Hippocrene dictionary has a lemma ilé-ayé 'world' and a sublemma ilẹ̀ ayé 'earth'. Perhaps someone who actually knows Yoruba can clear up whether there are two phrases, with separate etymologies.

Yakov Malkiel, who has written a book on the history and practice of etymology, in an earlier paper on its typology, calls out Ross's Ginger book as one of two instances of the extreme end of single word etymological monographs (the other being Flasdieck's Zinn und Zink: Studien zur abendländischen Wortgeschichte). An abbreviated version of the ginger etymology appears in Ross's book Etymology: With Especial Reference to English (part of Eric Partridge's Language Library series): a page and a half of text and a diagram. (The book is still in copyright, but I think it unlikely it will be reprinted after fifty years.)

Wednesday, October 1, 2008


We probably had the last fresh whole watermelon of the summer a few weeks ago. The crate of large globular produce at the supermarket is now full of pumpkins. But the Summer 2008 issue of Edible Boston, a franchised locavore magazine, just showed up there. Either that, or we just noticed it. It contains an article on watermelon by Elizabeth Gawthrop Riely, who edits the newsletter of the Schlesinger Library at Radcliffe-Harvard, home to an important collection of vegetarian cookbooks and where CHB meets. She has also written for Gastronomica (e.g., here).

The article makes the following observation directly relevant to this blog:

The name for a plant can often point the way to its starting point, its root, but the words for watermelon in many languages do not relate to each other. In French (pastèque), Italian (cocomero), Spanish (sandia), and Portuguese (melancia). There is no etymological tie between these Romance words. Going further afield and back, the words for watermelon in ancient languages—Greek (karpouxzi), Hebrew (avatiah), Arabic (batfikh), Persian (hinduwana), and Tamil (palam)—have no cognates. This all shows the watermelon’s prehistoric dissemination.
Read More

I am not sure how much can be inferred from a lack of cognates. When several daughter languages have related forms, that can indicate that a reconstructed parent had one, too. When a word is borrowed, it suggests the possibility that the object was new. But existing words can also be repurposed, as with African peanut words. And cognates can diverge as different branches encounter different material.

The diversity above is primarily in the greater Mediterranean. In contrast, most Germanic languages have words exactly equivalent to the transparent English watermelon: Dutch watermeloen, German Wassermelone, Swedish vattenmelon, Danish vandmeloner, Icelandic vatnsmelóna. This idea also extends to some neighbors, such as Czech vodní meloun.

Finnish and Estonian likewise have vesimeloni and vesimelon, but also arbuusi and arbuus from their other neighbors: Russian арбуз, Lithuanian: arbūzas, Polish: arbuz. This is from Turkish karpuz, as are Greek καρπούζι (I'm not sure where the x comes from above) and Romany harbuz. This in turn is from Persian خربوزه xarbuza, literally 'donkey cucumber'. The modern Persian word هندوانه hinduwāna indicates that watermelon comes from India. But the Hindi तरबूज tarabūja (also तरबूज़ tarabūza), Sanskrit तरम्बुज tarambuja is borrowed from Persian تربوز tarbuz. And Sanskrit खर्बूज kharabūja is from that same خربوزه xarbuza.

Watermelon (Citrullus lanatus — for a full name citation, see this note) appears to originate in southern Africa. Livingstone found them growing abundantly in the Kalahari:

But the most surprising plant of the Desert is the “Kengwe or Kēme” (Cucumis caffer), the watermelon. In years when more than the usual quantity of rain falls, vast tracts of the country are literally covered with these melons; this was the case annually when the fall of rain was greater than it is now, and the Bakwains sent trading parties every year to the lake. It happens commonly once every ten or eleven years, and for the last three times its occurrence has coincided with an extraordinarily wet season. … These melons are not, however, all of them eatable; some are sweet, and others so bitter that the whole are named by the Boers the “bitter watermelon.” The natives select them by striking one melon after another with a hatchet, and applying the tongue to the gashes. They thus readily distinguish between the bitter and sweet. The bitter are deleterious, but the sweet are quite wholesome. (p. 54)

The bitter form is Citrullus colocynthis, or a natural hybrid of it and watermelon.

The watermelon was known to the Ancient Egyptians. It is illustrated in paintings. (I cannot find a good image online: there is a drawing in An Ancient Egyptian Herbal, but the page is not available in preview; and in “Die Pflanzen des alten Ägyptens,” here in the Internet Archive, Fig. 30-32 in Table III—image 167 of 1190 in the PDF, which can only be reached by going to a nearby numbered page and moving forward or backward—but even the color scan does not pick up the thin lines very solidly; and there are what are assumed to be melons among the foods illustrated in Lepsius' Denkmäler aus Aegypten und Aethiopien, II, plates 67-68.) Seeds have been found preserved in tombs. This presents a bit of a mystery, since at the time of the early cultivation in Egypt, the start of the 2nd millennium BCE, as far as archeologists can tell, no farming was yet practiced in south-west Africa, where the wild relatives of watermelon and colocynth are found, and so the most likely candidate for the origin of its domestication.

The word b-d:d-w-kA*M2:D52 bddw-k3, which occurs in several medical papyri, is believed to refer to watermelon. For instance, a simple remedy in the Berlin Medical Papyrus 3038 (#111, transcription, facsimile, translation):

k:t b-d:d-M2-Z3-kA:D52-E1-Z3 i-r:p-W-W23-Z3 s-wr:r-i-N35A-A2

kt bddw-k3 jrp zwr.jn

ditto [a remedy to expel a disease caused by a demon]: watermelon; wine; drink.

The same word occurs a couple more times there in procedures related to fertility (#193-194, index, transcription, facsimile, translation). In Coptic, the word becomes ⲃⲉⲧⲩⲕⲉ (at least according to Budge; it isn't in Crum).

The Israelites' complaint about the foods they missed from Egypt in Numbers 11:5 (encountered in an earlier post for garlic) includes אֲבַטִּיחִ ’ăḇaṭṭiḥ 'watermelon'. This is presumably cognate, as is Arabic بَطِّيخ baṭṭīḫ (I assume the f in the article is a typo). From the Arabic come Spanish budieca, Portuguese pateca and French pateque, the modern French pastèque.

The traditional history is that watermelon was unknown to the Greeks and Romans until the beginning of the Common Era, since there is no readily identifiable Ancient Greek word for it (for example, de Candolle, translation; and so more modern food histories). This is somewhat at variance with its prevalence in Egypt. A reasonable case, though not conclusive, can be made for pushing it back several centuries, as follows. (For more details, see the paper by Alfred C. Andrews of the University of Miami in JSTOR). The word πέπων as an adjective meant 'ripe'. Combined with σίκυος 'cucumber', it named some kind of fruit that was only eaten when ripe. This was then shorted to πέπων as a noun. For instance, [pseudo-]Hippocrates describes σίκυος πέπων (De affect., 57) and contrasts σίκυοι ὠμοὶ 'raw cucumber' with πέπονες (De diaeta, 2.55). The Septuagint, in translating the passage in Numbers cited above, uses καὶ τοὺς σικύας καὶ τοὺς πέπονας 'cucumbers and melons'. μηλοπέπων 'melon-apple', or perhaps 'sweet-melon', was then used for regular melons. So that πέπων would likely have been 'watermelon'. The Romans viewed all the Cucurbitaceae as some kind of cucumis 'cucumber'. So, of pepo and melopepo, Pliny wrote:

cum magnitudine excessere, pepones vocantur. (Nat. Hist., 19, 5, 23, § 65)

When they [cucumbers] exceed a certain size, they are called “pepo.”

ecce cum maxime nova forma eorum in campania provenit mali cotonei effigie. forte primo natum ita audio unum, mox semine ex illo genus factum, melopeponas vocant. (ibid., § 67)

behold a wholly new form of them [cucumbers] has arisen in Campania with the form of a quince. I hear that the first one was born that way by accident, and then the type was made from the seed of that one; they call it “melopepo.”

Likewise the Vulgate for Numbers has cucumeres et pepones. So, while Lewis and Short, s.v. pepo, have, “a species of large melon, a pumpkin,” the Oxford Latin Dictionary, s.v. pepon, has, “a water-melon or other gourd.” Melopepo was shorted to just melo, from which many European words, including English melon, are derived. (This same development was related from a slightly different perspective in the earlier squash post.)

Italian developed a couple of new words for watermelon: Tuscan cocomero, derived in some way from cucumis; and Northern anguria, apparently from the Byzantine Greek ἀγγούριον 'cucumber'. This may be related to Arabic عَجُورْ ʿaǧūr, according to Forskål Cucumis chate, but according to Lane, “a species of melon.” Lane derives the Arabic from the Greek and furthermore glosses both ἀγγούριον and Modern Greek ἀγγοῦρι 'water-melon', not 'cucumber'; anguria can also evidently mean a kind of cucumber. Also from the Greek are Slavic words like Polish ogórek and Czech okurka 'cucumber'; from the Slavic comes the German Gurke; and from some Germanic language the English gherkin.

The Romance languages were not immune to the Northern water-melon: for example, Italian melone ad acqua or French melon d'eau. Thus Louis Reybaud, writing of Napoleon's men in Egypt:

Il fallut se passer de pain et de viande. Pour y suppléer on avait du riz, des lentilles, et surtout un melon d'eau commun sur les rives du Nil, et connu dans nos provinces méridionales sous le nom de pastèque. Ce fruit, plus rafraîchissant que substantiel, consola nos troupes dans leur marche pénible; il devint pour les soldats l'objet d'un culte singulier; dans leur reconnaissance ils le nommaient sainte pastèque. (Hist. scien. Ég., vol III, p. 183)

Bread and meat ran out. To supplement them, they had rice, lentils, and especially a water-melon common on the banks of the Nile, and known in our southern provinces under the name pastèque. This fruit, more refreshing than substantial, consoled our troops on their painful march; it became for the soldiers the object of a singular cult; in their gratitude they named it holy watermelon.

On sainte pastèque, one of the generals adds, “à l'example des anciens Égyptiens,” 'following the example of the Ancient Egyptians' (Mém. de Nap., p. 71).

The Spanish and Galician sandía come from Iberian Arabic *sandíyya, Classical Arabic سِنْدِية sindiyyah, meaning that the fruit comes from Sindh. The Catalan síndria perhaps shows the additional influence of cídria 'citron'.

The Portuguese melancia was balancia in the 16th century, of unknown origin, and began to show up as melancia in the 17th, presumably under the influence of melão 'melon'.

The physical descriptions in the botanical descriptions through the age of the great herbals to modern natural history already shows watermelon's variety of shapes, sizes and pulp and seed colors:

  • Albertus Magnus: pepo viridis plani corticis 'a green melon with a flat rind'.
  • Fuchs: fructũ rotundũ, herbacei coloris, & in eo ſemina lata, & colore ſpadicea, hoc est, in rufo atra 'round fruit, grass-colored, inside flat chestnut-brown seeds, that is, black in red'.
  • Garcia de Orta (See also Coloquios 36): prægrande & rotundum, oblongius tamen aliquantulum, formaque quodammodo ouali 'very large and round, though somewhat more oblong, and in a way oval shaped'.
  • Mattioli (illustration and comparison with true melons).
  • Camerarius: (shape) subrotundos 'roundish';
     Cortice læui, herbaceo colore, maculoſo tamen 'smooth rind, grass-colored, but spotted';
     (seed) rufo, nigróve putamine 'with a red or black husk'.
  • Dalechamp (Ir a 637): (shape) rotundum 'round';
     (color) herbaceo, maculoſo 'grass-colored, spotted';
     (seed) nigrum, in aliis rubrũ 'black, in others red'.
  • C. Bauhin, Phytopinax: Variat colore corticis qui alijs virens, alijs maculoſus, ſubcandidis maculis. Caro alijs rubens & dulcior, alijs candida: Semina colore nigro, aut rubro, aut fuluo; rariùs ſine ſemine reperitur. 'It varies in rind color, with some green, others spotted, with somewhat white spots. The flesh is in some red and sweeter, others white. The seeds are black in color, or red, or yellow; rarely it is found without seeds.'
  • C. Bauhin, Pinax (similarly).
  • Gerarde: “the fruite is ſomewhat rounde, ſtreaked or ribbed with certaine deepe furrowes alongſt the ſame, of a greene colour aboue, and vnderneath on that ſide that lieth vpon the grounde ſomewhat white: the outwarde ſkin whereof is very ſmooth; the meate within is indifferent harde, more like to that of the Pompion then of the Cucumber or muſke Melon: the pulpe wherein the ſeede lieth, is ſpungie and of a ſlimie ſubſtance: the ſeede is long, flat, and greater then thoſe of the Cucumbers: the ſhell or outward barke is blackiſh, ſometimes of an  ouerworne reddiſh colour.”
  • Marcgrave: fructus rotundus ſeu globoſus vel etiam ellypticus cortice viridi, magnitudine capitis humani, aut paulo major vel minor; carnem habet albam & in medio rubram (nimirum ubi ſemina jacent) ſeu ſanguineam ſucculentiſſimam, boni ſaporis 'the fruit is round or globular or even elliptical, with green rind, as large as a man's head, sometimes larger, sometimes smaller; it has white flesh and red in the middle (around where the seeds are scattered) or a very succulent blood-red, of good taste';
     (seed) in quibuſdam coracini, in aliis ruffi coloris 'in some raven-colored, in others reddish'.
  • J. Bauhin: (size) capitis humani magnitudiné equans 'equal in size to a human head';
     (seed) colore buxeo obscuriore 'dark boxwood color'.
  • Josselyn: “the fleſh of it is of a fleſh colour.”
  • Chabrey (Ir a 140): (flesh) alba 'white'.
  • Ray (summarizes others).
  • Sloane: Variat substantiâ sive pulpâ rubrâ vel albâ; huic semina sunt nigra illi rubra. 'Varies in the contents with either red or white pulp; these seeds are black, those red.'
  • Bryant: “varies very much in the ſize, ſhape, and colour of both its fruit and the ſeeds; the latter are black in ſome, red in others, and the fleſh yellow or red.”
  • Lourerio: (shape) rotundum, vel oblongum sesquipedale 'round or a foot-and-half oblong';
     (color) ruberrimum, aliquando pallidum 'reddish, sometimes pale';
     (seed) nigris, vel rufis 'black or red'.
  • Linnaeus.
  • Thunberg (fuller description): lanato 'woolly'.

Some very strict vegetarians in India (both Jain and Brahmin) must avoid foods that resemble meat in appearance, such as beets or tomatoes. And so, those watermelons, “of a flesh color,” are forbidden. (For instance, p. xvi of Julie Sahni's Classic Indian Cooking; or this review of a different book from the same year, and so perhaps copying it; or the comments to this blog post.)

Another set of Indian watermelon words is Sanskrit कालिन्दकं kālindaka, Hindi कलिंदा kalindā, Marathi काळिंगण kāḷiṅgaṇa, and so on.

The Tamil பலம் palam properly means a green fruit (or edible root) in general. I have no doubt that it sometimes means 'watermelon', but a more common name appears to be கொம்மட்டி kommaṭṭi, with many Dravidian cognates. (Both words together are given by this Malaysian exporter.) Dictionaries also list வத்தாக்கு vattākku, derived from Portuguese pateca, and so cognate with the French, Hebrew and Arabic. பலம் palam itself is borrowed from Sanskrit फल phala 'fruit', but also 'result; consequence', the associated verb meaning 'bear fruit' or 'burst open', ultimately from the same root as English split.

According the Laufer, the first mention of watermelon, 西瓜 xi1gua1 'Western melon', by the Chinese is in the 10th century diary of 胡嶠 Hu2 Jiao4 in the History of the Five Dynasties (五代史 Wu3 Dai4 Shi3):

遂入平川,多草木,始食西瓜,云契丹破回紇得此種,以牛糞覆棚而種,大如中國冬瓜而味甘。(chap. 73)

sui4 ru4 Ping2chuan1, duo1 cao3 mu4, shi3 shi2 xi1gua1, yun2 Qi4dan1 po4 Hui2he2 de0 ci3 zhong3, yi3 niu2 fen4 fu4 peng2 er2 zhong4, da4 ru2 Zhong1guo2 dong1gua1 er2 wei4 gan1.

As soon as I arrived at Pingchuan, I found many plants and trees, and first ate watermelon, the Khitan say that after defeating the Uigur they obtained this plant. They cover it with ox dung and and mats to grow it. It is as big as the Chinese winter melon and tastes sweet.

Watermelons were reported in New England in 1629 by Master Graves, Engineer:

In the mean time wee abound with such things which next under God doe make us subsist: as fish, foule, deere, and sundrie sorts of fruits, as musk-millions, water-millions, Indian pompions, Indian pease, beanes, and many other odde fruits that I cannot name. (The usually cited source, Mass. Hist. Soc. Coll. 1:124. 1806, is only a snippet, but the letter is thankfully reproduced elsewhere.)

The odd spelling water-million, not surprising for the 17th century, is listed in Bartlett's Americanisms and continues to pop up in eye-dialect, much of which is cringe inducing today.

Back in Europe, the Ukrainian кавун, from Arabic قاوُون qāwūn 'muskmelon' by way of Turkish kavun, also yields Polish kawon.

The Bulgarian любеница and Slovenian, Serbian and Croatian lubenica appear to be related to lùbina 'skull', from the root *leubh concerned with peeling. This discussion covers four Serbian / Croatian / Bosnian words for watermelon, adding bostan, from Turkish bostan 'vegetable garden; melon field; [water-]melon', from Persian بستان bustān 'garden for flowers or sweet-smelling fruits' (as opposed to باغ bāgh for a regular fruit garden) < بو bo + ستان stān 'fragrance place'.

And rounding out this area of diverse watermelon words are a couple simple ones: Romanian pepene verde 'green melon' and Hungarian görögdinnye 'Greek melon'. (See also M.M.P.N.D.)