A few days ago I noticed that the local markets are already selling pumpkins for carving, and for eating (there are some pumpkin varieties that are known especially for sweet flesh, appropriate for pies and puddings and sweet breads). And I’ve seen the appearance of pumpkin lattes and pumpkin-inspired beers. In other words, yes we’re in the season known as autumn, and fast approaching harvest.
A woman at the grocery store noticed me admiring the pumpkin display, and told me that they’re native to America, and that the word pumpkin is itself a native American word. I nodded politely, and didn’t correct her, but no, pumpkin is not a native American word, it’s a good English word, in the sense that we swiped it from the French, who got it from Greek via Latin.
Modern English pumpkin derives from the now obsolete pumpion, itself from the obsolete Medieval French pompon, popon, from Old French pepon, from Late Latin pepōn, from Latin, meaning “watermelon or gourd,” derived from Greek, “ripe, large melon.”
The proto Indo-European root *pekw– means “To Cook or ripen” with derived words having to do with cooking, ripening, and digesting, like Latin coquere, “to cook,” and vocabulary like cook, cuisine (culinary), kiln, kitchen, apricot, biscuit, concoct, and ricotta. The same root also gives us Greek pepon, pepo “ripe,” Greek peptein, “to cook, ripen, digest” and hence pumpkin (as well as dyspepsia).
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