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


2 Comments (+add yours?)

  1. shoreacres
    May 27, 2012 @ 09:54:26

    I’m thinking about the fruit-picking I’ve done and the fruit-pickers I’ve known, and find myself wondering if the realities of cherry-picking-the-activity somehow played into the development of cherry-picking-the-phrase.

    Apples, peaches and plums are singular fruits. You may have a pair that develops, but for the most part you just reach up and pluck. Cherries are different. They grow in bunches. If I remember correctly, when we picked cherries from our trees, the really good pickers had the ability to sort through a cluster of cherries with one hand and pull off only the good ones, leaving some to ripen a bit more, or leaving damaged ones for the birds. Their skill always amazed me – I would have pulled off the whole bunch and sorted them later.


  2. Steve Schwartzman
    May 27, 2012 @ 10:27:31

    I assume you’re right, because the fact is that English does cherry-pick but doesn’t apple-pick, peach-pick, etc. I picked some cherries only once in my life, in upstate New York in 1971, but I can’t remember what sort of technique I used, if any. I can remember that my car was white, not cerise.


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s

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
%d bloggers like this: