Armenian Language Corner

The Mysteries of the Eggplant

We are all familiar with eggplants, but not so much with the fact that their name actually has something to do with eggs. The word “eggplant” was born in the eighteenth century from the association with goose eggs.

However, that’s American English. In British English, the word “aubergine” is used, which, of course, sounds French. The exact same French word (aubergine) actually came from Catalan, which designates the eggplant with the word albergínia. As a matter of fact, most Spanish and Catalan cultural words starting with al-, like Spanish alcohol, algodón (cotton), almohada (pillow), or albaricoque (apricot), show their Arabic origin (the al particle being the English “the”). Not to be surprised then, that albergínia comes from Arabic al-barangan, one of the many variants of the standard form al-badinjan.

As it happened with many Near Eastern or Eastern Asian cultural items, Arabs happened to be their carriers from East to West. This is how the word al-badinjan, together with the eggplant, was derived from Farsi badenjân-էն, which at its turn came from Sanskrit, the ancient Indian language.

Now, if you are a standard Western Armenian speaker, especially, but not only from the Middle East, you will find yourself in familiar territory. You will say that the Arabic and the “Armenian” words for eggplant are the same: պատընճան (badunjan). Unfortunately, this is only a fact in your imagination. That’s why “Armenian” appears in quotation marks. The fact that the abovementioned word is used in colloquial language does not make it more Armenian that the Turkish word daha, also commonly used in oral language instead of the Armenian word տակաւին (dagaveen “still”).

The renowned linguist Hrachia Ajarian noted in his Armenian etymological dictionary that the word for eggplant should have a foreign origin like the plant. One may assume that, like in the Spanish case, Arabs also introduced eggplants to Armenia, perhaps even before.  

Now, the Armenian designation for eggplant is սմբուկ (sumpoog). Ajarian’s hypothesis was that its source was the Classical Arabic word anab, which means “eggplant.” The word may have entered Armenian as amboog. Later, an unknown copyist of a manuscript confused the ա (a) with a ս (s), and a word was born: sumpoog.

In the end, if you still doubt about adopting the actual Armenian word, perhaps you will be convinced by the law of less effort: badunjan has three syllables, while sumpoog has two.