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).


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

    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