Are You Nuts?

My cousin and I had some guests for dinner the other night and we were discussing a pesto sauce she was using that was sans pine nuts. She spent a few extra minutes at the store reading ingredients to find one because she knows I am allergic to them. This got me thinking about all the different types of nuts I have had allergic reactions to at some point:

pine nut








Taking a look at these words through the four investigative questions again lifts a veil to reveal meaningful aspects of English orthography.

A pine nut is an edible seed of a pine cone, coming from a pine tree. It used to be a hyphenate pine-nut. When we use it in context: Scott ate a pine nut and had an allergic reaction, we can see that the entire compound is acting as a noun, not an adjective followed by a noun. Making a word sum for this word isn’t going to generate much, but taking a look at the history of each element that comprises it can lead to some interesting connections:

Screen Shot 2017-07-30 at 6.24.34 PM

We see some really interesting things happening in the history of the element <pine>. It comes from Latin pinus, which gives the Spanish derivative piñata, as well as pituitary and pitch. Pinot went through French before arriving in English. A nice pinot noir sounds a lot better for my health than do any of the nuts. We also see the Germanic word fat. While this may seem disconnected when you look at the spellings, phonologically it makes perfect sense. It is a clear example of Grimm’s Law. Further, if you look at the related PIE root *peisk- denoting fish, you see Pisces ~ fish. The Old English word for fish is fisc. That <sc> from Old English reliably forms the <sh> digraph in Present Day English. On top of these fascinating connections are the ones we see between the graphemes <gn> and <kn> in the other PIE family shown in the visual. See the LEX grapheme deck for more on these.

The investigations of the elements in coconut, walnut and peanut also yield interesting connections.

Just considering the etymologies: all of these forms are attested hyphenates at some point as well: pea-nut, wall-nut, and coco-nutt.

 So, what about the other types of nuts:  almond, cashew, pecan, pistachio?

The free base almond can be traced back to Greek amygdalos, going through Latin, and then through French where it picked up an excrescent <l>. It is related to the amygdala, a part of your brain, so called because of the shape.

Cashew is a borrowed word from Portuguese, from the Brazilian acajuba tree. It was first attested in 1703.

Pecan is a borrowed word from Algonquian. It went into French as pacane before being attested in 1712 in English.

Pistachio came from the Italians in the sixteenth century, ultimately from Persian pistah.

I must be nuts to be looking at all these words while dinner and a glass of pinot noir is sitting in the other room.