Tuesday, October 16, 2018

Words of the day: apricity, apricot

Paging through Ammon Shea’s Reading the “OED”: One Man, One Year, 21,730 Pages (2008), I noticed Shea noticing the word apricity::

Apricity (n.) The warmth of the sun in winter.

A strange and lovely word. The OED does not give any citation for its use except for Henry Cockeram’s 1623 English Dictionarie. Not to be confused with apricate (to bask in the sun), although both come from the Latin apricus, meaning exposed to the sun.
That’s the end of Shea’s entry. Cockeram defines apricity as “the warmeness of the Sunne in Winter.” A strange and lovely definition.

Does the word apricity prompt you to wonder about another, more familiar word? Yes, that’s right, apricot. Does that word have anything to do with apricity? No and yes.

The OED traces apricot to the Portuguese albricoque or Spanish albaricoque, later assimilated to the cognate French abricot (with a silent t). Similar words appear in Italian, Old Spanish, Spanish Arabic, Arabic, Latin, and Greek. The Latin praecoquum, “early-ripe, ripe in summer,” was an epithet and later a name for this fruit, originally called prūnum or mālum Armeniacum. The English word apricot is older than apricity.

Now here’s the fun part: the change from abr- to apr- may be the result of a mistaken etymology. In 1617 the English linguist and lexicographer John Minsheu explained the name of the fruit as deriving from Latin, “in aprīco coctus,” “ripened in a sunny place.” Oops. So apricot isn’t and is related to apricity. And what were apricots called before they were called apricots? Abrecockes, abrecox, abricocts, abricots, aphricokes, aprecox, apricocks.

Like the word apricity and Cockeram’s definition, the OED’s definition of apricot, too, is lovely and strange: “a stone-fruit allied to the plum, of an orange colour, roundish-oval shape, and delicious flavour.” Allied to the plum!

comments: 5

Fresca said...

Love this! Apricots--worthy of a crate of their own.

Michael Leddy said...

But not too far from the plums. :)

Chris said...

"Apricot" seems to be a case of a loan-word from Arabic into Romance (the al- is a tip-off) that was in turn borrowed from a Latin source. One online etymology has "1545–55; < Middle French abricot < Portuguese albricoque or Spanish albar(i)coque < Arabic al the + barqūq < Medieval Greek < Late Latin praecocquum, for Latin (persicum) praecox literally, early-ripening peach..." It's interesting because by the time it gets into Portuguese or Spanish the recognizable Latin root is no longer obvious.

Michael Leddy said...

Yes, that’s pretty much the way the OED has it, with al-burqūq and -barqūq coming from the Greek πραικόκιον, praikokion. The later Greek forms are πρεκόκκια, prekokia, and βερικόκκια, berikokkia. So there’s the p sound showing up and giving way by the b.

Michael Leddy said...

Oops — giving way to the b.