they brought me an avocado
May 9, 2010 Leave a comment
Umberto Eco’s essay How to Travel with a Salmon contains a funny if puzzling line:
I asked for a lawyer, and they brought me an avocado.
But why? Original Italian text Come Viaggiare con un Salmone says:
Ho chiesto un avvocato e mi hanno portato un mango.
Avvocato means “lawyer”. Mango, apparently, is the next best thing to avocado. The pun is clearly lost in translation.
Avocado, as well as tomato and chocolate, are of Central American origin. The Nahuatl words āhuacatl, chocolatl and tomatl were adopted by Spanish as aguacate, chocolate and tomate, respectively. In her seminal Chocolate: The Consuming Passion, Sandra Boynton jokes that
it was not until chocolate came to the United States that people began spelling and pronouncing it correctly: CHOCOLATE
— even though the Spanish spelling of chocolate is exactly the same. Most European languages accepted (with some variations) the Spanish versions, while Italians invented their own word for tomato: pomodoro (literally, “golden apple”). Russian employs both words, in slightly different contexts: томат typically refers to the whole tomato plant while помидор is just the fruit. Still, we drink томатный сок (tomato juice).