Thursday, May 30, 2013

Nahuatl Loanwords: Part 2

Yesterday we began our look at Nahuatl loanwords with some plant and animal terminology. Today we'll be taking a look at a few more Nahuatl terms that made their way into English, this time focusing on some delicious foods.

A lovely assortment of guacamole,
avocado, and garnishes.
Avocado & Guacamole - In our opinion, no party is complete without tortilla chips and guacamole! The delicious greenish-yellow fruit gets its name from the Nahuatl term āhuacatl, which can mean both "avocado" and "testicle". Appropriately, our favorite dip was originally called āhuacamōlli, a combination of the aforementioned term and the Nahuatl mōlli, meaning "sauce". We assume that the original recipe was to make sauce from avocados, but one can never be sure given the bloody history of the Aztecs...

Cacao - The Nahuatl term cacahuatl refers to the beans of the cacao tree, which is native to the Americas. The beans themselves hold seeds, known as cacaua in Nahuatl, which are used to make both cocoa and chocolate!

Chocolate - Speaking of one of the world's most popular flavors, its name comes from the Nahuatl word xocolātl. The term is thought to be a combination of xocolia, meaning "to make bitter", and -atl, meaning "water", though it has recently been disputed by some linguists.

Chili Pepper & Chipotle - These spicy red peppers are named for the Nahuatl word chīlli, and are a great addition to just about any dish. When you combine the Nahuatl term poctli meaning "smoke" with it, you get chilpoctli, the smoke-dried jalapeños known as chipotles in English.

A leaf-wrapped tamale, ready to enjoy.
Tamale - If you've ever had real Mexican food, then we hope you've eaten a few of these. This Mesoamerican dish has been around for thousands of years, and consists of a corn-based dough filled with just about anything (meat, cheese, fruit, vegetables) and then steamed in corn husks or plantain leaves. The Nahuatl term tamal was used for this important portable food, which was often eaten by armies, hunters, and travelers alike.

Tomato - We'd like to know what Europeans ate before tomatoes were brought over from the Americas. They certainly weren't eating pizza or pasta with delicious tomato-based sauces! This essential fruit was originally named tomatl, from the Nahuatl term tomana "to swell", literally meaning "the swelling fruit".

If you've been paying attention over the last two days, you may have been wondering why most of the original Nahuatl terms end in -tl, -tli, or -li. This is, in fact, a suffix that the language uses to mark unpossessed singular nouns!

Did we forget your favorite Nahuatl loanword in English? Let us know in the comments, and please include a definition.