The previous post, about cacto/cactus, concluded with a picture showing the spines of a cactus commonly called a prickly pear. At the right of that photograph, and mostly out of the frame, was a bright red object that is the “pear” of the prickly pear, a fruit that Spanish calls a tuna. Here’s a better look at one:
When Europeans explored the New World, naturally they came across many plants and animals that they hadn’t seen before. Sometimes they named them by recycling or modifying familiar words from home, as when English speakers called this cactus fruit a prickly pear. At other times Europeans adopted the names used by native peoples, with allowances made, of course, for the limits of phonology in the borrowing language. Tuna happens to be a word that Spanish borrowed from the Taíno languages of the Caribbean, and now English has taken it from Spanish. These cactus fruits are now available in many supermarkets across the United States, but the Taíno languages have become extinct.
Even if those languages no longer exist, some familiar words in Spanish (and hence English) are of Taíno origin, as you can see from the list in the middle of the relevant Wikipedia article.
© 2015 Steven Schwartzman