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Thursday, April 7, 2011

Getting the rough end of the ananas

My ever-alert nephew, journalist Mike Barber, drew my attention to a tumblr page which listed the names in 27 languages for my favourite tropical fruit.
26 of these languages, from Arabic to Turkish, had some variant of "ananas". And then there's English, with ... "pineapple". Why?

The word "ananas" did indeed exist in English from about 1600 to 1850. According to the OED, the word comes "apparently from Nanas, its name in a South American Indian language of Peru [Guarani], it having been first seen by Europeans in Peru, and described under the name Nanas by André Thevenet, a monk, in 1555." But in English it had an unfortunate and career-limiting pronunciation, sounding exactly like "an anus" (honestly, I don't make these things up, although how the OED knows this I don't know).

Probably desperate not to shock any more dinner guests, and seeing a similarity between the fruit and what falls off pine trees, English speakers started calling it a "pineapple". This had been the name for a pine cone since the 1300s (Latin, French, Dutch, and German also called pine cones pine "apples".) Then, of course, we needed a new word for the thing on pine trees, and since we had borrowed the word "cone" in the 1500s, "pine cone" was ready to take over from the early 1700s.

There are two quite delightful slang uses of "pineapple": the evocative Australian "get the rough end of the pineapple" (get a raw deal) and a now dated British "on the pineapple" (unemployed or on welfare). On the pineapple, on the dole... dole ... pineapple... geddit?

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About Me

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Canada's Word Lady, Katherine Barber is an expert on the English language and a frequent guest on radio and television. She was Editor-in-Chief of the Canadian Oxford Dictionary. Her witty and informative talks on the stories behind our words are very popular. Contact her at wordlady.barber@gmail.com to book her for speaking engagements; she can tailor her talks to almost any subject. She is also available as an expert witness for lawsuits.