There’s a new Bible translation that drives me nuts: “And he sent his servants to them, to gather the  produce  of the land.” How did that boring business-word get in there? The Greek was  karpous, fruits,  literally  things you pluck off a tree. The Romans had their verb  carpere, to seize, to pluck,  which survives in the proverb  carpe diem, seize the day— grab the fruit and enjoy it.

Word of the Day But the Latin word for  fruit, frux,  wasn’t related to what you do with fruit when it’s ripe. It was related to what the tree does: it  bears fruit.  We borrowed words directly from the Latin for the sugar that fruit contains,  fructose,  and for the virtue of stretching the fruit of your labors,  frugality,  and for making something else bear a lot of fruit,  fructify. We had already had the word  fruit,  from the Norman French invaders; that word came from the Latin  fructus.

Do we have any words in English that the fancy-dancy French  fruit  displaced? After all, there were fruit trees in England before the French got there, and it doesn’t seem likely that the Saxons said, “Go pick me one of those things there that hang from that there tree.” What does Grimm’s Law say? Never eat an apple from an ugly old lady. Actually, it relates Germanic consonants to their Latin / Greek kinfolk. Grimm’s Law says that Latin  = Germanic  b. We are looking, then, for a Germanic word beginning with  b,  followed by  and a vowel (or a vowel and  r;  they change places a lot), followed by a back-of-the-mouth consonant. Is there such a word? Sure: Old English  byrig, mulberry:  Modern English  berry. But that wasn’t the old word for fruit in general. That old word was  aeppel:  Modern English  apple. That’s the origin, there, of the idea that Adam and Eve ate an apple. What they ate was a fruit. It could have been a peach or a pear or a pomegranate—or an apple.

Articles by Anthony Esolen

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