Some things just sound more poetic in other languages. Take the humble potato for instance. A potato in English is just a plain old potato – but in French it is a pomme de terre or literally “apple of the earth”. Now that you know the respect with which the French treat the potato you think of it differently, don’t you? It is no longer a lowly spud, a tuber, a tater, a root. No, now it is as essential to the ground as the apple is to the tree. It is life giving and knowledge containing. It is storied and exceptional. It has a year membership to the Louvre and drinks wine with the other elegant foods on Parisian summer nights.
The potato, as you may know, is from South America. It was a staple of the Incan diet. The Inca were the Machu Picchu builders and their language, Quechua, still survives today. There are around 8 million native speakers of this language, mostly in Peru and Bolivia. The word for potato in Spanish is ‘papa’, spelled and pronounced just like the Spanish word for father. Papa, as in ‘potato’ in Spanish, is actually from Quechua and papa, as in father, is from Latin. There is no etymological relationship between the word for potato and father in Spanish. To my surprise, English has adopted quite a few Quechan words including puma, llama, pampa, and lima (bean).
Unlike Spanish, English gets the word potato from a Carib language, Taíno, in which they say batata for sweet potato. This word was combined with ‘papa’ to make ‘patata’. Eventually this became ‘potato’. In English it was later adopted to mean a white potato as well.
Getting back to the idea of ‘pomme de terre’, there is an English word for a type of fruit that descends from this idea of describing a fruit as an apple variant. Anyone know what that fruit is? What does the name translate to literally?