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Words With Interesting Histories: Avocado

The avocado. Not only one of the “world’s healthiest foods”(1), rich in fiber as well as numerous vitamins and minerals, the avocado is also one of the most delicious foods to be found. Truly a wonder of nature, something so good and so good for you. A fruit this special is deserving of a special name, and avocado does have a somewhat unique sound among words in the English language. But where does the name come from?

Avocados originate from the Mesoamerica region, what is now known largely as Mexico and Central America. The first evidence of human consumption of avocados dates back as far as 10,000 years; humans began cultivating the fruit around 5,000 years ago. Tribes including the Inca, the Olmec, and the Maya were among the first to domesticate the avocado tree.(2)

It’s the Aztec language of Nahuatl, however, from which the avocado derives its name. The Aztecs called the fruit ahuakatl, which had a second meaning in Nahuatl: “testicle”. The avocado was surely given this name due to its resemblance in shape; it is also likely related to the fact that the Aztecs considered the avocado to be an aphrodisiac.

The name avocado can be traced back to the 18th century, when ahuakatl was altered by the Spanish, influenced by an old Spanish word for “lawyer” (you guessed it: avocado), which comes from the same Latin source as the English word advocate.(3)

So, next time you’re craving a delicious snack that’s also one of the healthiest foods you can eat, advocate for your local fruit stand owner to give you an avocado.