Image for Article: Word of the week: Potato

Potatoes are one of the most consumed foods in the world. Fried, baked, roasted, boiled; there’s a multitude of ways to eat them. However, people rarely think about the word itself—’potato’. Surprise, surprise, ‘potato’ is not of Anglo-Saxon stock, like bean or pea. In fact, the Anglo-Saxons did not even know what a potato was! Let’s go back in place and time.

The Andes,16th century. Incan farmers have relied on this earthy crop for sustenance for centuries. They called it ‘papa’ in Quechua. How, then, did the English become acquainted with the vegetable? Well, when Francisco Pizarro conquered the Inca Empire, the papa also became the staple food of the Spaniards who settled in what would become Peru. Since the Spaniards did not have a word for the new crop, they adopted the word from Quechua. The potato’s etymological history is tied to another similar tuber, the sweet potato. The Spaniards, before encountering Andean papas, got acquainted with the Caribbean ‘batata’ first.

Image for Article: Word of the week: Potato

Typically, when people encounter new things, they tend to lump similar things into one word. Eventually, the differences become evident when speakers start to use new terms. For example, although the common word for potato in Hispanic America is papa, in Spain, it is known as patata, from the word batata, which is sweet potato. Patata was introduced into the English language. Once adopted, the spelling roughly matched the pronunciation—”potato.”

Continue reading to find out more about the origin of potato…

Image for Article: Word of the week: Potato

It is interesting to note that when people are not close in proximity to the origin of a new concept, they can be quite inventive. In the many German-speaking areas of 17th century Central Europe (Germany as we know it did not exist), truffles were quite common. Their word for them was Tartoffel, from the Italian, tartufolo, which derived from Vulgar Latin territuberum – ‘earth tuber,’ so to speak. So, when the Germans found that potatoes could grow on the ground, truffles and potatoes did not seem that different, so originally, the name for the potato was the same as truffle. Eventually, through dissimilation, Tartoffel became Kartoffel. In French, a similar adaptation of potato took place. In 14th century French, pomme meant any type of fruit. Pomme de terre meant any product that grew from the land/earth, and it wasn’t until the mid-1700s that pomme de terre acquired the meaning of a potato.

Image for Article: Word of the week: Potato

As we have seen, language and our perception of the world around us are closely linked. We come up with words that complement our lives, and when we cannot conjure up a word, we borrow one, alter it, change its meaning, modify it a bit more, until it becomes part of our existence. And, of course, what would we be without an order of French fries?

Velázquez Press
Author: Velázquez Press

Velazquez Press has been the preeminent authority in Spanish and English Dictionaries for over 150 years. Founding date 1852 Products Spanish and English Dictionary, Word to Word Glossary, Spanish and English Software https://velazquezpress.com/

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