piñata

The previous post explained the development of Spanish piña, which means both ‘pine cone’ and ‘pineapple,’ from the similar Latin pinea, an adjective that meant ‘having to do with a pine tree,’ based on the pinus that has become pino/pine. From piña came not only the piñón that English borrowed as pinyon, but another Spanish relative that has increasingly made its way into English in recent decades: piñata, which we might be tempted to conceive as a sort of “pineapple” filled with little presents for children. The explosive truth, though, is that Spanish borrowed piñata from Italian pignatta ‘pot,’ a word that expresses that sort of pot’s resemblance in shape to a pigna ‘pine cone’ (Italian gn is pronounced the same as Spanish ñ). Even anatomy gets in on the resemblance game, with ‘a gland inside the head that looks like a pine nut’ and is therefore called, in Spanish as well as English, pineal.

© 2011 Steven Schwartzman

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2 Comments (+add yours?)

  1. shoreacres
    Dec 21, 2011 @ 15:00:04

    Some of these derivations are incredibly complex – reading this one was like trying to plow through the genealogy of a family whose cousins intermarried one too many times!

    It is quite interesting, however, and I’ve sent this one on to a friend who happens to be Italian, but who taught Spanish and Spanish literature for years. She loves words, and I suspect she’ll like this.

    Reply

  2. Steve Schwartzman
    Dec 21, 2011 @ 15:36:48

    Maybe it’s etymologists whose cousins intermarried one too many times! The connections can be complicated indeed, but I’ve been in thrall to them for decades. I hope your friend is equally fascinated by this group of words.

    Reply

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If you encounter an unfamiliar technical term in any of these postings, check the Glossary in the bar across the top of the page.
©2011–2016 Steven Schwartzman
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