Why do the British refer to their eggplant as an ‘aubergine’?

Posted by on March 25, 2009

eggplantWhy do the British refer to their eggplant as an ‘aubergine’? This Canadian wants to know. Upon my arrival in the UK, I was astounded to find that the Brits not only pronounce the names of some vegetables incorrectly (e.g. tomato) but they even use the wrong words for some. Could this be their desire to seem more “continental”?

They have chosen a few vegetables at random and decided to refer to them by their French name. Imagine the Cockney market stall proprietor shouting “Zucchini my darlin?” Now replace this with “Courgette m’luv?”. Sounds infinitely more refined, doesn’t it? Oddly, in a quick check with Wikipedia, I’m told that ‘zucchini’ was given its name as it is considered to be Italian in origin. The article also mentions its use in France for the dish ratatouille. What, no courgette? A quick confirmation from the Macmillan Dictionary tells me they are indeed the same squash!

I fondly remember picking snap peas in my grandma’s garden, not waiting for them to be washed or prepared and eating them fresh from the vine. Who could imagine eating a mange tout that had not been blanched until al dente (another one for the Italians-urrà!)? Legume refinement abounds!

Filet Mignon anyone? Here the Brits have been sneakier. Instead of going for the obvious French culinary term, they have anglicised it to ‘fillet steak’. But there seems to be some confusion as to when exactly to tip one’s culinary chapeau to the French. I’ve recently been served a pancake that was clearly a crepe. If I desired one rolled and covered in some sweet citrus-flavoured sauce, I suppose I’d have to order a ‘pancake Suzette’. On the other hand, all of us over in North America refer to that staple of the fast food diet as French fries, whilst our British friends rather unceremoniously call them ‘chips’. One wonders how many food items are referred to in English by the French. At a guess, I’d say few.

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Comments (8)
  • If you would like a more detailed answer to the post’s first question, you can find it here.

    Posted by Kati Sule on 14th April, 2009
  • […] This post was Twitted by shane_r […]

    Posted by Twitted by shane_r on 24th November, 2009
  • Courgettes aren’t native to Britain nor are aubergines, since the Normans came over and invaded Britain they must’ve brought their courgettes and aubergines with them. The English, not having ever seen either of these vegetables before, must’ve heard the Normans/French refer to these vegetables as courgettes and aubergines and not having their own word for them decided to call them the same thing.

    Alternatively the English could’ve gone over there seen these vegetables, tasted them and liked them but didn’t know what to call them so they decided to ask. I think you can work it out.

    Posted by Bob on 6th January, 2010
  • The initial question is VERY simple. English is a COMPOSITE language, and hence the most powerful, as recognised as the international language of literature. The language has been born out of Celtic, Scandanavian, German, Latin, Spanish, Dutch etc etc. The more appropriate question would be why are the French so isolationist when language is concerned and deny themselves a more colourful and expansive potential for expression. Also, the Canadian “English” is a bastardised version of English & Americana, hence mis-spelling colour as color, which was born from lack of education in the colonies and using phonetics rather than the correct, historic spellings.

    If you wonder why things like through and threw are different it is because they used to be PRONOUNCED differently. Linguistics is an evolutionary process, both nationally and regionally (hence local accents and coloquialisms). Applying the terms “WRONG” to English from a descendent? LMAO

    Posted by Ian on 16th July, 2010
  • 1. Tomato by definition is a FRUIT, it grows on a plant above ground. 2.Tomato in England is pronounced as it always has been in the English language, in america they changed the pronunciation as part of their act of independence. 3. In England we didn’t have your so called eggplants, so we went by the Anglo-french spelling.

    Posted by Chris Bailey on 30th December, 2011
  • Actually, zucchini in italian is “zucchina/e”. It’s curious to see how in American English zucchine/linguine and other words changed their final letter in “i”.

    Posted by flapane on 13th August, 2012
  • Curious indeed. As an Italian speaker I find it hard to ask for a panini, or a biscotti. And what if I want two? paninis? biscottis? horrible…

    Posted by Liz on 13th August, 2012
  • This article is absolutely hilarious. Having lived in many different countries, I always find it rather charming when the inherently parochial struggle to come to terms with the greater world.

    Thanks to Ian for an excellent summary of the whys and wherefores.

    Posted by Phil Bikk on 19th November, 2012