Well met, people! Didn’t think we’d forget about our beautiful followers on Fun Etymology day, did you? Let’s get right to it!
Today, we’re going back to the origins of Fun Etymologies by bringing you another word from Nahuatl, the language of the Aztecs.
Today’s word is “chocolate”!
This beloved food is made from the seeds of the evergreen tropical plant Theobroma Cacao (“Theobroma” means “food of the gods” in Greek, and who could disagree?), a relative of cotton native of Central America, and enjoys undying popularity in every corner of the planet due to its amazing taste and incredible versatility.
The etymology of its name is pretty straightforward: it comes to English through Spanish from a Nahuatl compound “xocolatl” (where “x” is pronounced “sh”), literally meaning “bitter water”, in reference to the drink the Aztecs used to make from cocoa seeds. The funny thing about this etymology, however, is that no Aztec ever used the word “xocolatl”! It can’t be found in any Aztec document dating to before the Spanish conquest, where the drink was simply referred to as “cacahuatl” (which is where our word “cocoa” comes from, incidentally. The Aztec word was itself a loanword from Olmec “kakawa”. Triple language chain!). Where did this word come from then? Nobody knows for sure!
A leading hypothesis is that it was coined by the Spanish themselves to avoid the similarity between “cacahuatl” and the Spanish word “caca”, meaning, well… “animal and/or human waste”, an association which would also be brought to mind by the… ahem… suggestive colour of the drink.
Hope I haven’t ruined your snack.