The previous post discussed the tuna that English took from Spanish as the name of the fruit of the prickly pear cactus, so it’s natural enough to wonder about the other tuna in English, the one for the type of fish that Spanish calls atún. Just like the cactus-related tuna, the one for the fish also passed from Spanish to English, though this time with a change in form, with the a getting transferred from the beginning of the word to its end. And just as with the name of the cactus fruit, Spanish took the name of the fish from another language, but this time it was from Arabic at-tūn, where the first part of the term is an assimilated form of the Arabic definite article.
Unlike the previous case, though, the language from which Spanish borrowed wasn’t the originator or even the first borrower of the word: Arabic had gotten it from Latin thunnus, which the Romans had taken from Greek thunnos. According to the American Heritage Dictionary, the Latin word gave rise to Old Provençal ton, which in turn generated French thon and Italian tonno. Those are the sources of the alternate English form tunny, which is used primarily in Britain.
© 2015 Steven Schwartzman