Dos mangos por el precio de uno

Spanish has two unrelated words mango. One is the fruit that’s reported to be by far the most widely consumed in the world. The word is identical in English, which allows as a plural not just mangos, as in Spanish, but also mangoes. You couldn’t be blamed for assuming that English borrowed mango directly from Spanish; nevertheless, and surprisingly, the transfer went in the opposite direction. Before imparting mango to Spanish, English had picked it up from Portuguese manga, which referred to the fruit of the tree. According to the American Heritage Dictionary, Portuguese acquired the word “from Malayalam māa or a kindred Dravidian source.” Many of the languages of southern India are in the Dravidian family, and we remind ourselves that during the Age of Exploration the Portuguese sailed around Africa to reach India and set up trading stations along the coasts of the subcontinent.

The other Spanish mango means ‘handle’ and is a native word descended from Vulgar Latin *manĭcus, a derivative of the manus that evolved to the synonymous Spanish mano ‘hand.’ Notice the parallel in English handle coming from hand.

For more about Spanish mano, check out the post Mano a mano that appeared here in 2012.

© 2017 Steven Schwartzman

6 Comments (+add yours?)

  1. Yong Huang
    Dec 13, 2017 @ 17:30:08

    It’s common for a medial, unstressed vowel to get lost in French and Spanish. So manĭcus > man’cus > mango. (c and g have the same pronunciation position.)


  2. shoreacres
    Dec 14, 2017 @ 09:47:18

    It’s an occasion. For the first time in my life, I read and understood your title without having to go through a mental, word-for-word translation. I used to be able to do that with simple French, but I’ve never done it with Spanish.

    When I saw the word manga, my first thought was of the Japanese comics. No etymological relationship there, and none for mangle or the French manger, I suspect. On the other hand, I now know a new French word, and can say, “Elle a mangé des mangues.”


    • Steve Schwartzman
      Dec 14, 2017 @ 11:18:05

      It’s always a wonderful moment when a sentence in a foreign language “clicks.” Likewise for finding you can make a play on words in a language not your own. I’ll see yours and raise you one: “Une mangouste a mangé des mangues,” “A mongoose ate some mangos.” (I’d hoped to find a French verb beginning with mang- that preserves the “hard g” sound, but my French dictionary didn’t provide one.)

      You’re correct that mangle, manger, manga, and mango are all unrelated.


  3. Jim R
    Dec 14, 2017 @ 10:55:09


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©2011–2018 Steven Schwartzman

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