Garbage pickup is once a week in Austin, and as I dutifully carried out my bit of trash one Wednesday, which is the day for my neighborhood, I wondered if garbage might have any connection to a Spanish word. I couldn’t find any, and it’s not even clear that the -age ending is the French-derived suffix that corresponds to Spanish -aje. Garbage appeared only in Middle English, when it meant ‘offal of fowls,’ and its origin is uncertain.
Oh well, no success there, so I turned to the next word in my English dictionary, garbanzo. The question “Does garbanzo have a connection to Spanish” is a strange one, because garbanzo is a Spanish word, which English has taken to using alongside the earlier and still current chickpea.
What is now garbanzo in Spanish and English was arvanço in Old Spanish, and the g- that got added at the beginning seems due to influence from Spanish garroba, a word of Arabic origin that means ‘carob.’ Both plants are in the legume family and produce beans, but I wouldn’t try interchanging them in any recipes.
From garbanzo Spanish has created garbancero, which as an adjective means ‘pertaining to chickpeas’ and as a noun is ‘a person who deals in chickpeas.’ The DRAE also gives the noun the extended meaning ‘a thing or person that’s commonplace, ordinary.’ The diminutive garbanzuelo is literally ‘a small garbanzo’ but a secondary sense is ‘a disease that afflicts a horse’s legs and can produce small tumors,’ which presumably look something like little garbanzos.
© 2014 Steven Schwartzman