Friday, May 20, 2011

What does an avocado have in common with an alligator?

[Chinese traditional character connoting alligator]

The other day I looked up the Chinese word for avocado, which is 鱷梨 (èlí). As I stared at the first character (shown in large size above), I felt that from its component parts (the left side of the character is the fish radical) that it just didn't seem to be a "normal" character for a veg..., I mean, a fruit. Popular Internet answers indicate the avocado is a fruit, although I had long thought of it as a vegetable. Being mildly allergic to avocados, I never had much interest in them, until now (linguistically!).

I wondered if that 鱷 character was the same one which I could remember phonetically, but not visually, for alligator (鱷魚; èyú), and indeed it is. I was told that the avocado skin resembles alligator skin, which is understandable. I later realized that the right side of the character might be a stylized rendering of what an alligator's skin looks like.

The second character in avocado, 梨 (lí), means pear. Apparently "alligator pear" is a common enough name for an avocado, although that was new(s) to me.

9/22/13: In Taiwan, avocado is also apparently translated as 洛梨 (luòlí).

2 comments:

  1. Very interesting name. My question now is why avocado is also called 牛油果?

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    1. The 牛油果 name may have come from the avocado (or perhaps its mashed version) being called "poor man's butter", according to http://www.flmnh.ufl.edu/soltislab/fgp_education/persea.html.

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