Apricot–the Precocious Fruit

Etymology of the Golden Fruit

The next time you bite into a fragrant, velvety apricot, you may want to savor the richness of its etymological journey as well as its flavor.

As with the word history of so much food stuff, the apricot’s physical origin played a significant role in the naming of this delicate member of the Rose family. Although the first trees sprouted in China about 4,000 years ago, early Latin and Greek speakers believed that apricots were from Armenia. They therefore called the trees Armenikon or Armeniaca.

Today, this early reference is still used in the scientific name Prunus armeniaca [Armenian plum]. Later, because apricots ripened on the tree before the familial peach, they became known in Latin as praecoquum or “early ripening” (Literally “cooked beforehand” [prae = before coquum = cooked]).

It is fascinating to note our word “precocious” comes from this very same Latin word-coupling.

But how did we get from praecoquum to apricot? The answer has a lot to do with Arabic. Praecoquum became the Greek praikokion; which became the Arabic barquq. Perhaps Europeans didn’t realize that “al” in Arabic meant “the” because al-barquq became the Spanish albaricoque; the Portuguese albricoque; and the Catalan Albercoc or abercoc. With the arrival of the French abricot we’re almost there.

Even the reason for a “b” turning to a “p” serves up an interesting story. This replacement probably occurred because of an erroneous etymology written in a 1617 lexicon. In it, John Minsheu, an English teacher of languages, wrote that apricots are “in aprico coctus” or “ripened in a sunny place”. As false a notion as it may be, it is likely the reason we now say “apricot” instead of “abricot.”

Even if the Chinese word for “apricot” did not seem to have influenced its English etymology, it seems fitting to return to the golden fruit’s Asian ancestry by way of the another interesting food–the ginkgo.

Known by many for its anitoxidant properties and as a catalyst for carrying oxygen to the brain, thus aiding memory, the ginkgo was so named because the nut was similar in size and appearance to a small apricot. “Ginkgo” means “silver apricot” and is thought to come from a phonetic spelling of the Chinese ideogram “yinhsing,” which is pronounced “guinnkyo” [ yin = silver + hsing = apricot].

So whether or not you consider the rich history of this precocious fruit, enjoy one. They are chock full of Vitamin A (for Apri-) and Vitamin C (for -Cot)!

Ellen Daniels is a Holistic Health Counselor working in New York City.

Contact: vibrantlives@hotmail.com
Website: www.ellenvibrantliving.com