Sunday, July 11, 2010

Bertrand Russell on apricots

Bertrand Russell presents this argument in favour of useless knowledge:
“I have enjoyed peaches and apricots more since I have known that they were first cultivated in China in the early days of Han Dynasty; that Chinese hostages held by the great King Kaniska introduced them to India, whence they spread to Persia, reaching the Roman Empire in the first century of our era; that the word ‘apricot’ is derived from the same Latin source as the word ‘precocious’, because the apricot ripens early; and that the A at the beginning was added by mistake, owing to a false etymology. All this makes the fruit taste much sweeter.”
(In Praise of Idleness, 1935)
PS the false etymology intrigues me, but I haven't managed to track it down to my satisfaction

1 comment:

  1. That's very interesting - I had no idea of it's history! The OED sheds some light on the alleged etymological error, and in fact it seems that Mr Russell had it wrong. The OED thinks it's the 'p' that is the error, not the 'a':

    [orig. ad. Pg. albricoque or Sp. albaricoque, but subseq. assimilated to the cognate F. abricot (t mute). Cf. also It. albercocca, albicocca, OSp. albarcoque, a. Sp. Arab. al-borcoq(ue (P. de Alcala) for Arab. al-burqq, -birqq, i.e. al the + birqq, ad. Gr. (Dioscorides, c 100; later Gr. and pl.), prob. ad. L. præcoquum, variant of præcox, pl. præcocia, ‘early-ripe, ripe in summer,’ an epithet and, in later writers, appellation of this fruit, orig. called prnum or mlum Armeniacum. Thus Pallad. (c 350): ‘armenia vel præcoqua.’ The change in Eng. from abr- to apr- was perhaps due to false etymol.; Minsheu 1617 explained the name, quasi, ‘in aprco coctus’ ripened in a sunny place: cf. the spelling abricoct.]