Origins of English Words, Part 2: Where did these food names come from?

O coconut, why are you coconut? Food – we can’t live without it, and it’s a part of our everyday rituals.  There are certain kinds of food we see or eat every day (or almost every day) and we are very familiar with the names given to the mentioned kinds of food.  But how much do we know about the origins of these names? Have you ever wondered where these names came from, or do you just take them for granted? The name of every object, phenomenon, etc.  has its origin, but we rarely stop to think about that fact.

If we take a look at the origins of words that are related to food, we can actually have an insight on how these types of food ended up on the plates of British or American people.

In the name itself, there is a little story, more precisely – a personal history and journey of the food.  We present you with mouthful of delicious food words and their interesting origins.  


Don’t we all like candy? When we hear this word, the first association that pops into our minds is sweet.  Candy is a type of sweet food made of sugar, and possibly chocolate.  We all enjoy this sweet piece of food after a good meal, but hardly any of us has stopped to think how this word entered the English language.

The origin of the word “candy” can be traced back to the 13th century, when it became a part of the English language from Old French “çucre candi” meaning “sugar candy” which was eventually shortened to just “candy”.  We can also argue that the word “candy” might have its earliest origins in the Arabic word “qandi”, or Persian “qand” (cane sugar), probably derived from Sanskrit “khanda” which stood for “a piece of (sugar)”.  However, we can all agree in one – eating candies is fun.


Coconuts can be found in many different forms today – milk, oil, flour, and so on.  Coconut is considered a very healthy type of food and should definitely be a part of our nutrition.  We all know what a coconut looks like, but are you familiar with the connection between the way it looks and its name?

The name “coconut” consists of two parts – “coco” and “nut” (although coconut is not a nut).  The term became part of the English language somewhere in 1610s, when Spanish and Portuguese explorers named it “coco”, meaning “grinning face”.  Because of the three holes on the surface of a coconut, it looked like a human face to them, thus the name “coco” was given was given to this fruit.  The term coconut was also used as a slang word to refer to “a head” in 1834.  Even today, it is used to refer that someone’s head is void of content (empty) according to the Urban Dictionary.  

With the appearance of coconut as a part of our everyday lives, an entertaining activity called “coconut shy” was invented, referring to an activity where people throw balls at coconuts trying to knock them off stands.  


You can eat it with pizza, sandwiches, fries, or any other food – depending on your taste.  This sauce made of tomatoes comes in many varieties, such as spicy ketchup, extra spicy with jalapenos, mild, and so on.  Probably many of us come in contact with ketchup every day without even knowing how this word entered the English language.  

With its different spelling variations through the history, such as “catchup”, “catsup” or “ketchup”, the word “ketchup” most likely originates from the Chinese word “koechiap” with the meaning “brine of fish”, as the first Chinese recipe involved using pickled fish and spices.  It is said that this term originated somewhere around 1711, and another theory suggest that this word entered English from the Malay word “kichap”, but the Malay word also probably originated from the Chinese one.  When the word “ketchup” first entered the English language, it wasn’t used in the sense known to us today, but it referred to a great number of sauces.  The recipe for ketchup that includes the use of tomatoes appeared around 1800s.


Whether eaten for breakfast, lunch, dinner or snack; healthy or unhealthy: with just two ingredients or ten; the sandwich is definitely one of the most popular meals around the globe.  Easy to prepare, it can be served in many occasions, such as picnics, birthdays, and many other celebrations.  Although we consider a sandwich to be quite ordinary and common, the story that hides behind its name is a very interesting one.

The word “sandwich” is said to have been originated around 1762, and it is associated with a man named John Montagu who was Fourth Earl Sandwich.  We know see where the name came from, but how did Montagu’s title became a reference for this type of food? Earl Sandwich was rumored to have one vice, and that was gambling.  He was so passionate about his favorite pastime, that he refused to make brakes for proper meals and he wanted to eat at a gambling table.  The most convenient food for this occasion was a slice of meat between two slices of bread, and thus the sandwich came to life.  

If you found this article mouth-watering, grab a sandwich with a little bit of ketchup in honor of the Earl Sandwich.  When you are finished eating, you can share with us any other interesting origins of food names.

Source: Etymological Dictionary