The last post talked about a few descendants of the Indo-European root *wed- ‘water,’ including water itself and the euphemistically named kinds of “water” called vodka, whiskey, and the German Kirschwasser, literally ‘cherry water.’ German Kirsch developed from the Vulgar Latin word for ‘cherry,’ *cerasia or *ceresia. We remember that in Latin c was pronounced k even before e and i; German has preserved that k sound. In k-less contrast, Spanish cereza evolved from the second of the Vulgar Latin forms.
Vulgar Latin *ceresia also developed to Old French cerise and Anglo-Norman cherise. That passed into Middle English, where, because people mistook it for a plural, the new singular cheri got created; English now spells it cherry. In addition to that normal word for the fruit, English has adopted modern French cerise ‘cherry’ as a color name. A few online dictionaries define it as ‘a moderate red; having a dark reddish-pink color; a deep to vivid purplish red; a bright red color; cherry red.’ I could have given more definitions but I cherry-picked the ones you’ve just read. The verb cherry-pick means ‘to pick selectively,’ ‘to pick the best,’ ‘to pick and choose to advantage,’ and especially, when supporting one side in an argument, ‘to pick out facts that support your side of the argument while conveniently not mentioning facts that bolster the other side.’ The online Merriam-Webster says that cherry-pick has been in use since at least as long ago as 1965. Why English speakers cheer on the cherry but don’t use the alliterative *plum-pick or *peach-pick remains a mystery. I guess English cherry-picks the fruits it uses in idioms.
© 2012 Steven Schwartzman