A demi-tasse (more often now spelled in English without the hyphen) is, in the definition of Webster’s New World College Dictionary, ‘a small cup of or for black coffee served following dinner.’ English took the phrase from French, in which language the demi means ‘half’ and the tasse means the same as its Spanish cognate taza ‘cup.’ French and Spanish acquired their word for ‘cup’ from Arabic tasht ‘basin,’ but that noun had come into Arabic from Persian. The American Heritage Dictionary points out the similarity of a word in Avestan (the eastern dialect of Old Iranian), tashta, which meant ‘cup, bowl.’

Where a demi-tasse is small, the Spanish augmentative tazón is ‘a bowl’ or ‘a large cup.’

 © 2016 Steven Schwartzman

4 Comments (+add yours?)

  1. shoreacres
    Jan 20, 2016 @ 18:13:47

    What a famliar word: taza. I’ve recently read several descriptions of agave leaves being used to form a “cup” during sap collection. In an 1870 book detailing Mexican agriculture, including maguey cultivation, I found this:

    “Puede ser que el piojo del pulque no sea mas que las larvas del ‘velia melis agavis.’ Este insecto deposita sus heuvecillos en las grietas de las tazas de los magueyes, y es indudable que las aguas llovedizas acarrean estos huevesillos al centro de la taza, y alli mezclados con la agua-miel van a dar a las tinas donde se desarrollan.”

    None of the translation services knew what to do with huevesillos, but I’ve eaten enough huevos rancheros to figure that one out.

    “Tazo” brought to mind the popular brand of tea. I wondered if the word was made up, or taken from Spanish. Steven Smith, who developed the business, tells this story about the name:

    “I was aiming for Merlin meets Marco Polo,” he says, “with some Raiders of the Lost Ark thrown in.” He sat in a room with Lee, who had invested in the new venture, and they emerged hours later with Elixir, later altered to Tazo. Soon after, a tea-leaf reader informed him that Tazo means “river of life” in the Romany language she’d grown up speaking. Never one to turn down an auspicious omen, Smith made that phrase the guiding principle of the business.”



    • Steve Schwartzman
      Jan 20, 2016 @ 18:40:30

      What a coincidence that this post about taza tied in with your post about agave.

      It’s curious that the text you quoted spells the word for ‘little eggs’ in two ways, with a c and with an s. I’d have expected one or the other but not both. Spanish has undergone various spelling reforms, and you can see that in 1870 the common preposition that is now spelled a still had an accent on it.

      I think I also wondered if the Tazo name had anything to do with Spanish taza, but you’ve made clear that it didn’t. What I’m not clear about is how Elixir got changed to Tazo. I also wonder how the first vowel in Tazo is supposed to be pronounced: like ah or like ay?


  2. Maria F.
    Jan 22, 2016 @ 19:53:17

    “Tazo” is not in any dictionary and it only exists as “el rio Tazo Grande” from Peru. So if they mean “river of life” then it must be that river, but as a word in itself does not exist. It is pronounced like ‘ah’.

    The ‘’-illos” is a suffix diminutive used only in Spain. Here we say “huevitos”, not “huevesillos”. They add it to other words also. To form a new word (not necessarily a diminutive of the original): mantequilla (butter), panecillo (bread roll), bolsillo (pocket), cajetilla (packet), ventanilla (ticket office), carbonilla (cinder), cabecilla (ringleader), vaquilla (heifer), de mentirijillas (as a joke).


    • Steve Schwartzman
      Jan 22, 2016 @ 20:43:47

      Right. According to the previous comment, the Tazo of the tea company turned out to be a word from the Romany language, not from Spanish. My question about the pronunciation of Tazo referred to the way the tea company pronounces it, which could well differ from how the word is pronounced in Romany. To find out, I just called the company and learned that the first syllable in the name is pronounced “tah,” as it would be in Spanish. The z, however, is pronounced like a true z, not like the s-sound it would have in Latin American Spanish (or the th-sound it would have in many parts of Spain).


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©2011–2016 Steven Schwartzman
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