The etymology of fruit

Illustration about fruit, Strikeout
Soma Chu/Staff

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Which came first: orange or the orange? 

While this may not be the age-old question, it sure is one worth considering. If you’ve ever been curious about the origins of the English language’s fruit names, then look no further — here’s a comprehensive list of some of the most popular fruits. 

Orange

The term for orange is simple and to the point: This citrus fruit is, as I’m sure you could guess, typically orange. However, while we may think that this fruit gets its name from its external color, the fruit actually came first. 

While the fruit actually originated in China, the English word stems from the old Persian “narang,” which probably rings a bell if you’re familiar with the Spanish word for orange, “naranja.” It wasn’t until the 17th century that there was evidence of the term being employed for the color through Middle English writers such as Geoffrey Chaucer, eventually solidified by Isaac Newton’s light spectrum. 

Banana

Bananas are a little less straightforward, both in name and shape: Have you ever seen a banana without a curve? Maybe.

Anyway, the origins behind the term banana are a bit more unclear. Many believe it stems from the West African Wolof word “banaana,” eventually making its way to English through Spanish or Portuguese trade.

Fun fact: Apparently, the terms banana “skin” and “peel” did not come into fruition until 1851 and 1874, respectively, because they were such a hazard in cities. 

Apple

To be honest, I don’t really like apples, but Steve Jobs and Eve really did, so here we go. 

The term apple stems from the Proto-Germanic root “apalaz,” which is believed to have possibly just meant fruit itself. In fact, the word was often applied toward all fruits — including nuts — except for berries throughout the 17th century.

Pineapple

OK, we’ve heard about apple: But what about pineapple?

According to Merriam-Webster and as previously mentioned, medieval botanists often referred to any fruit with which they were unfamiliar using “apple.” Given the cones that grew on pine trees, they began to refer to pinecones as pineapples.

In fact, the pineapple fruit was originally called “ananas” in the English language; however, John Smith was one of the earliest to record the term “pineapple,” which has stuck in our vocabulary to this day. 

Peach

Nothing made me angrier than watching Timothée Chalamet desecrate that peach in “Call Me by Your Name,” mostly because I was really dehydrated while watching that movie. But, also, I really like peaches. 

While the peach tree actually has origins in China, the term peach stems from the Latin phrase “periscum malum” — otherwise known as “Persian apple” because, apples, of course — which then became the Medieval Latin term “pesca,” which Old English directly translated to “pursue.” 

Just so you all know, there’s no record of the word referring to “an attractive woman” until 1754; but I’m not sure that really mattered to Elio, for obvious reasons. 

There you have it! While I wasn’t able to get through every fruit today, here were just some of their namesake origins. And maybe the next time you’re eating a peach or pineapple, you can be grateful it isn’t an apple.

Stella Kotik is the night editor. Contact her at [email protected]