or, stuff that I dragged out of my head

Location: Moncton, New Brunswick, Canada

Saturday, December 17, 2005


Recently, Boingboing.net posted a link to something fascinating: a 1949 candy-salesman's catalogue. I'm not a candy freak--I could probably do without the stuff altogether--but I've loved advertising ephemera since I was very, very young, and this sort of thing is its own kind of candy to me.

On several of the pages in that catalogue (here's one) is the unusual spelling "cocoanut". It's well-established in the past; the Marx Brothers, after all, had a movie called The Cocoanuts in 1929. But you hardly ever see it any more: it's been almost entirely supplanted by the spelling "coconut" (which appears on at least one page of the catalogue). So where did the spelling come from in the first place, and why did it get shortened?

Let's start with the perhaps obvious fact that "coconut", "cocoa", and "coca" are three different, absolutely unrelated words. "Coca" is a Spanish word derived from the Peruvian "cuca"; it refers to the plant which is the source for cocaine (using the standard scientific "-ine" suffix which in this case indicates that the substance in question is a base as opposed to an acid). "Cocoa", on the other hand, is a now firmly established misspelling of Spanish, later French, "cacao", used to designate the seed-pod of the cacao tree which provides the raw material for chocolate. And "coconut", the seed-pod of the coco palm, is a combination of the Portuguese word "coco"--their name for the seed-pod--and "nut", which we added to make clear the distinction between spoken "coco(nut)" and "cocoa".

So "cocoanut" is really a misspelling based upon another misspelling. Perhaps that's why we scrapped it in favour of "coconut"; because it's wrong.


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