Pumpkin

Hello,

As I’ll be carving for Halloween later, I’ve decided to explore the origin of the word pumpkin today.

Our 2017 pumpkins

Pumpkin has its origins in Greece and Mexico, much to my surprise. The oldest botanical evidence for pumpkins were seeds found in Mexico and dating to about 6000 B.C. Their name, however, comes from Greece rather than Mexico.

The Greek word pepon (πέπων) means large melon and probably originates from peptein meaning to cook or ripen. This passed through Latin as peponem and thence to Middle French as pompon. From French the word entered English as pumpion in the 1540s. By the 1640s, with help from some American colonists, it had found its resting place as pumpkin. Less than a decade later there are references to pumpkin pie and its fate was sealed.

I’m just glad that these days we grow pumpkins in Ireland. Having exported the festival of Halloween to North America we’re very happy to import the idea of pumpkin lanterns as a thank you. Why? Because in living memory (i.e. about half my knitting & crochet group) it was turnips (or swedes) which were carved for Halloween lanterns and trust me, carving a tough turnip is a much more perilous pursuit than pumpkin-carving. The result is pretty gruesome though.

“Traditional Irish Halloween Jack-o’-Lantern” by Rannpháirtí Anaithnid. Licensed under Creative Commons

Until next time happy reading, writing, and pumpkin carving,

Grace

Looking for more Wordfoolery? Check out my new book “How To Get Your Name In The Dictionary” – an exploration of the varied life-stories of those who gave their names as eponyms to the English language. All the buy links are in the side bar on the right —->>

 

5 thoughts on “Pumpkin

  1. kimberlysullivan

    Thanks, Grace! Just shared this with my younger son, too. We’re both glad to know “we” won you over with our Americanized version of the word and (yummy) pumpkin pie. One of my favorites…

    Reply
    1. wordfoolery Post author

      I have yet to eat pumpkin pie as it’s not cooked much in Ireland. However my DH picked up pumpkin biscuits in San Francisco recently and they were scoffed rapidly, so I’m thinking pumpkin pie would be popular with my crew.

      Reply
  2. Rick Ellrod

    *peponem* struck me as an odd form — sounded like a third declension accusative singular, while Latin nouns are usually cited in the nominative (subject) case. According to Wiktionary, *peponem* is indeed the accusative singular of *pepo*. (Doesn’t make any difference to the chain of development — just following out my pedantic curiosity. ;))

    Reply

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