Since it’s my turn on the schedule to do Last Call, I’ve decided to to make this the first installment of what I’m calling “Fun Fact Friday,” in which I tell you something awesome that you can bring up in just about any social situation this weekend. Everyone loves the guy at the party dropping all the dope fun facts.
This week’s fun fact was inspired by commenter The Guy That Did That Thing, who dropped by the comment section of my xanthan gum piece earlier this week to share some fun etymological tidbits. I love etymology, and I also love messing with everyone’s day, so let’s talk avocados!
Avocados are native to south Mesoamerica. In Nahutal—the language spoken by the indigenous Nahuas and their modern descendants— they are called āhuacatl. When the Spanish colonized the region they were unable to pronounce many words in the Nahutal language, whose glottal fricatives didn’t easily roll off the tongue quite like romance languages do. And so they changed the word to the much more flowy aguacate. At some point the English bastardized aguacate as avogato, and called it the “avogato pear.” Later the name was corrupted once again, colloquially becoming known as the alligator pear.
The name changed once again in 1915. The well-to-do in American society began developing a taste for avocados, but they were an imported product that —as anyone who has ever purchased one knows—would transform from rock hard to mushy garbage before anyone could get their hands on them. (By the way, use this trick and never suffer that fate again.) Upscale hotels were ordering them at the wholesale price of $12 a dozen which, in 2019 dollars, comes out to about $299. Remember this the next time you complain about Chipotle jacking up the price of guacamole by fifty cents.
Avocados had never been grown in the United States before, but California farmers knew it had the potential to be a major cash cow. There was a problem: the names āhuacatl, aguacate, and alligator pear weren’t very marketable. At a conference in a Los Angeles hotel, the farmers rechristened the fruit “avocado”, and named themselves the California Avocado Association.
By the way, in addition to being the Nahutal name for avocados, āhuacatl also means testicles. You see, avocados grow in pairs, and once you see them dangling from a tree, like in the photo above, you’ll never be able to see them as anything else.
Enjoy the ball mash on your burritos, everybody, and happy weekend!