Armenian Language Corner

The Armenian Mysteries of Chocolate

Chocolate is 365 days around us, but the end of the year is one of those times when we may be literally swamped in chocolates.

Chocolate has an American, more precisely Mexican origin, the same as the seed with which chocolate is prepared: cacao. Both words “cacao” and “chocolate” come from Nahuatl, the language spoken by the Aztecs, and the word chocolatl became Spanish chocolate and French chocolat before entering the English language and many others. It first came in as a drink made by dissolving chocolate into milk and water (cold water by the Aztecs, hot water by the Conquistadors), and it is possible that the Mayan word chocol “hot” had something to do with the etymology. It is in the nineteenth century when “chocolate” with the meaning of the candy started being used in English.

As we said, “chocolate” entered many other languages. We use շոքոլա (shokola) in Western Armenian, directly from French, while Eastern Armenian uses շոկոլադ (shokolad), also from French, but via Russian шокола́д (shokolad).

However, there are two other words in Western Armenian that are less used. Both have an aura of mystery around them because it is unclear how they came into life. One of them is տուրմ (doorm), which appears in Hrachia Adjarian’s celebrated etymological dictionary. The famous linguist notes its first appearance in an impressive Armenian-French dictionary by the erudite philologist Norayr de Byzance (Norayr Buzandatsi, 1843-1916), published in 1884, and writes that “indeed it is a recently invented word, but what source does it come from?” We do not know either, but the word was still in circulation, although limited, until our days, and now there is a chocolate company in Yerevan that has adopted the word doorm as part of its commercial name, making it rhyme with gourmet.

The case of կոլոհատ (golohad) or կոլահատ (golahad) is more mysterious. It sounds similar to chocolat(e), and perhaps someone misread the French word and invented an Armenian distorted version of it. It was used at the turn of the twentieth century, and you may find it in several monolingual dictionaries of the past century.

An interesting tidbit: if you search in one of the most massive English-Armenian dictionaries ever produced, that of H. H. Chakmakjian (father of the famous composer Alan Hovhaness), published in 1922, you will notice that “chocolate” is translated as both golahad and doorm.

True, “chocolate” is an international word, but who said that a concept can only have just one name?