Consider the plump purple of the noble aubergine, the British and European name for what we North Americans call eggplant—a dowdy, frumpish name. Aubergine goes all the way back to Sanskrit, a classical language of India, where one playful name for the fruit was vatinganah which means literally ‘fart, go away.’
Eating eggplant was considered to be efficient in suppressing flatulence, quite the opposite of its usual alimentary effect. From Sanskrit, the word and the fruit were borrowed into Persian as badingan, then into Arabic as al-badhinjan. When the Arabic-speaking Moors first conquered Spain they brought eggplants with them. Some Spaniards borrowing the term thought the Arabic definite article al was part of the word, so it went into the Catalan language as alberginia. The French picked this up as aubergine, and English nabbed the word late in the 1700s.
The English name, eggplant, arose in the eighteenth century to describe goose-egg-size fruits of a white or yellowish hue, rather than their now-familiar deep purple colour.
As to the anti-flatulent property of eggplants, eaters vote on both sides of the question. Some say aubergines reduce intestinal gas; others claim their consumption is an invitation to a tooting patootie.
To the two fussbudget emailers: Yes, darlings, I well realize eggplant and aubergine are NOT Canadian words. But, on this site, I choose to offer articles about Canadian English and World English. We don't want to be too parochial, do we now?
© 2007 William Gordon Casselman
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