Why are the English word “pineapple” and its Spanish equivalent “piña” similar? Why are they different from all the other words for this fruit in all the European languages? The other languages all share the root “ananas.”
Pineapple is actually a combination of the word pine from the Latin ‘pīnus’ meaning “sap, juice” and apple from “apple”meaning “apple”, but the Spanish word refers to the looks and shape of this fruit, that resembles a pine-cone.
The English language is Germanic in origin, but the successive Roman, Norse and French invasions have equipped it with a large part of its voca
bulary, making it a pretty unique mix. This makes it easy to learn if you are European because there will always be a form of the word that will sound like one from your country -especially if you speak a Latin or Germanic language. The structure is a hybrid between the two families of languages, but it can be very confusing at times!
For instance, think of the word “cow”, which has a Germanic origin and refers to the animal. But the term “beef” – which comes from the French word “boeuf”- refers to the meat. The reason for this is that only the rich French aristocracy that invaded England in 1066 could afford to eat meat, while the Anglo-Saxon commoners, who raised the cattle, retained the Germanic “cow”.
The origins of languages and words are a fascinating topic and one of the best reflections of the history and culture of the countries that use them. Look at these maps showing the different terms used in European languages for several common concepts such as rose, apple or tea.
The Norse: the Scandinavian tribes that colonized northeastern England during the 9th and 10th centuries. No less than 15% of English words have a “viking” origin.
The Anglo-Saxons: the Germanic tribes that invaded England after the 5th century. The Angles, Saxons and Jutes came mostly from the territories that are now part of Germany and Denmark and the mix and evolutions of the languages they spoke is the base of the English language.
Commoner (n): a serf, a person who does not belong to the nobility.
Cattle (n): any domesticated bovine mammals, such as cows or oxen.