CLOSE
Original image
ThinkStock

12 Words English Got from the Aztecs

Original image
ThinkStock

Planning a barbeque this weekend? You can thank the Aztecs for some of the items on your list. A typical Aztec meal from 1519, when Spanish conquistador Hernán Cortés arrived in Mexico, would look familiar to lovers of Mexican food today: corn tortillas wrapped around beans, chili, avocado, and tomatoes. In fact, the names of several of these familiar foods come to us from Nahautl, the language of the Aztecs. But cuisine is not the only source of English words with an Aztec background.

1. Chia

“Ch-ch-ch-chia, the pottery that grows!” Remember the Chia Pet? Sorry for reminding you. Chia may be the most annoying word English got from the Aztecs.

Chia, the green “fur” that grows out of the pottery animals, is an annual plant native to Mexico, Salvia hispanica. According to Wikipedia, the word comes from the Nahuatl chian, meaning oily. The present Mexican state of Chiapas received its name from the Nahuatl "chia water" or "chia river."

2.    Coyote

The name of this wolf-like wild dog native to North America (and now a colloquial term for a smuggler of immigrants) entered English in the 18th century, from Mexican Spanish, from Nahuatl coyotl:

"Saw a cayjotte, or wild dog, which in size nearly approached the wolf." — William Bullock, Six months' residence and travels in Mexico, 1824.

3.    Mesquite

Have some mesquite charcoal ready for your Memorial Day barbeque? The name for this spiny tree or shrub of the pea family, native to arid regions of the southwestern U.S. and Mexico, entered English in the mid 18th century from Mexican Spanish mezquite, from Nahautl mizquitl:

Another tree which they call a Miskito: it beareth a fruite like vnto a peasecod marueilous sweete, which the wilde people gather and keepe it all the yeere, and eate it in steede of bread. — Richard Hakluyt · The principall navigations, voiages and discoveries of the English nation · 1st edition, 1589

4.    Ocelot

A wild cat, Felis pardalis, having a tawny coat marked with numerous black rings, spots and streaks, and found in forests and scrub from southern Texas to Argentina. The word comes, via French, from Nahuatl tlatlocelotl, literally "field jaguar."

5.    Peyote

The cactus Lophophora williamsii, or a hallucinogenic drug made from it, containing mescaline and used especially in some North American Indian rituals.

Origin: via Spanish peyote, from Nahuatl peyotl. From The Journal of Nervous and Mental Disease, published in 1913:

We endeavoured further to extend knowledge of pathological mental states by producing mental conditions nearly allied to generally recognized types of insanity... For this purpose we used the Mexican drug [printed drag] pelotte.

6.    Shack

Although this word for a roughly-built cabin or shanty sounds as if it could have come from Old English, the earliest citation for it in the Oxford English Dictionary is dated 1878. In 1881, the New York Times was still putting quotation marks around the word, indicating it was slang or unfamiliar. The origin is obscure, but it may come from the Mexican Spanish word jacal, from Aztec xacalli, meaning "wooden hut."

7. Tule

Californians, especially those from the Central Valley, are familiar with tule (pronounced TOO-lee) fog, the thick ground fog that makes driving through the Valley a risky proposition in late fall to winter.  Some Californians use the expression “Out in the tules” to mean the boondocks or the sticks. Fewer people know that tule refers to either of two species of bulrush abundant in low lands along riversides in California and hence, a thicket of this, or a flat tract of land in which it grows. The origin is the Nahuatl word tullin.

8.    Tomato

From French, Spanish, or Portuguese tomate, from Nahuatl tomatl.

There was also Indian pepper, beetes, Tomates, which is a great sappy and savourie graine. — José de Acosta · The naturall and morall historie of the East and West Indies (transl. Edward Grimeston) · 1st edition, 1604

9.    Avocado

This word entered English in the mid 17th century, from Nahuatl ahuactl, by way of Spanish aguacate. Because of their shape and bumpy green skin, some people call avocados “alligator pears,” but for the Aztecs, the bulging fruit brought something else to mind. According to Merriam-Webster.com, ahuacatl is short for āhuacacuahuitl, which means "testicle tree" (āhuacatl, "testicle" + cuahuitl, "tree").

10. Chili

This word for hot peppers came into English around 1660 from Spanish chile, which comes from Nahautl chilli.

"Try a chili with it, Miss Sharp," said Joseph, really interested. "A chili," said Rebecca, gasping. "Oh yes!" She thought a chili was something cool, as its name imported. – Thackeray, Vanity Fair, 1848 

11. Guacamole

A dish of mashed avocado mixed with chopped onion, tomatoes, chili peppers, and seasoning. Origin: Latin American Spanish, from Nahuatl ahuacamolli, from ahuacatl, ‘avocado’ + molli, ‘sauce.’

12. Chocolate

"From time to time they brought [the emperor Montezuma], in cup-shaped vessels of pure gold, a certain drink made from cacao, and the women served this drink to him with great reverence.”  — Bernal Diaz del Castillo, The Discovery and Conquest of Mexico.

The treasure rooms of Montezuma’s palace were filled not with gold, but with cacao beans, the source of chocolate. Unlike today’s bonbons, Aztec chocolatl was a bitter, hot and spicy drink made with ground corn, vanilla, and chilis. Along with golden treasure, the Spanish brought chocolate back to Europe. And the rest is delicious history.

 

Sources: “Salvia hispanica, Wikipedia; “Chocolate,” Oxford Bibliographies; OED [Oxford English Dictionary] Online; New Oxford American Dictionary (Second Ed.); The American Heritage Dictionary of the English Language (Fifth ed.); Merriam-Webster.com; Real Academia Española, Diccionario de la Lengua Española; Wood, Tim, The Aztecs.

Original image
Hulton Archive/Getty Images
arrow
science
6 Radiant Facts About Irène Joliot-Curie
Original image
Hulton Archive/Getty Images

Though her accomplishments are often overshadowed by those of her parents, the elder daughter of Marie and Pierre Curie was a brilliant researcher in her own right.

1. SHE WAS BORN TO, AND FOR, GREATNESS.

A black and white photo of Irene and Marie Curie in the laboratory in 1925.
Irène and Marie in the laboratory, 1925.
Wellcome Images, Wikimedia Commons // CC BY 4.0

Irène’s birth in Paris in 1897 launched what would become a world-changing scientific dynasty. A restless Marie rejoined her loving husband in the laboratory shortly after the baby’s arrival. Over the next 10 years, the Curies discovered radium and polonium, founded the science of radioactivity, welcomed a second daughter, Eve, and won a Nobel Prize in Physics. The Curies expected their daughters to excel in their education and their work. And excel they did; by 1925, Irène had a doctorate in chemistry and was working in her mother’s laboratory.

2. HER PARENTS' MARRIAGE WAS A MODEL FOR HER OWN.

Like her mother, Irène fell in love in the lab—both with her work and with another scientist. Frédéric Joliot joined the Curie team as an assistant. He and Irène quickly bonded over shared interests in sports, the arts, and human rights. The two began collaborating on research and soon married, equitably combining their names and signing their work Irène and Frédéric Joliot-Curie.

3. SHE AND HER HUSBAND WERE AN UNSTOPPABLE PAIR.

Black and white photo of Irène and Fréderic Joliot-Curie working side by side in their laboratory.
Bibliothèque Nationale de France, Wikimedia Commons // Public Domain

Their passion for exploration drove them ever onward into exciting new territory. A decade of experimentation yielded advances in several disciplines. They learned how the thyroid gland absorbs radioiodine and how the body metabolizes radioactive phosphates. They found ways to coax radioactive isotopes from ordinarily non-radioactive materials—a discovery that would eventually enable both nuclear power and atomic weaponry, and one that earned them the Nobel Prize in Chemistry in 1935.

4. THEY FOUGHT FOR JUSTICE AND PEACE.

The humanist principles that initially drew Irène and Frédéric together only deepened as they grew older. Both were proud members of the Socialist Party and the Comité de Vigilance des Intellectuels Antifascistes (Vigilance Committee of Anti-Fascist Intellectuals). They took great pains to keep atomic research out of Nazi hands, sealing and hiding their research as Germany occupied their country, Irène also served as undersecretary of state for scientific research of the Popular Front government.

5. SHE WAS NOT CONTENT WITH THE STATUS QUO.

Irène eventually scaled back her time in the lab to raise her children Hélène and Pierre. But she never slowed down, nor did she stop fighting for equality and freedom for all. Especially active in women’s rights groups, she became a member of the Comité National de l'Union des Femmes Françaises and the World Peace Council.

6. SHE WORKED HERSELF TO DEATH.

Irène’s extraordinary life was a mirror of her mother’s. Tragically, her death was, too. Years of watching radiation poisoning and cancer taking their toll on Marie never dissuaded Irène from her work. In 1956, dying of leukemia, she entered the Curie Hospital, where she followed her mother’s luminous footsteps into the great beyond.

Original image
iStock
arrow
Live Smarter
You Can Now Order Food Through Facebook
Original image
iStock

After a bit of controversy over its way of aggregating news feeds and some questionable content censoring policies, it’s nice to have Facebook roll out a feature everyone can agree on: allowing you to order food without leaving the social media site.

According to a press release, Facebook says that the company decided to begin offering food delivery options after realizing that many of its users come to the social media hub to rate and discuss local eateries. Rather than hop from Facebook to the restaurant or a delivery service, you’ll be able to stay within the app and select from a menu of food choices. Just click “Order Food” from the Explore menu on a desktop interface or under the “More” option on Android or iOS devices. There, you’ll be presented with options that will accept takeout or delivery orders, as well as businesses participating with services like Delivery.com or EatStreet.

If you need to sign up and create an account with Delivery.com or Jimmy John’s, for example, you can do that without leaving Facebook. The feature is expected to be available nationally, effective immediately.

[h/t Forbes]

SECTIONS

arrow
LIVE SMARTER
More from mental floss studios