But Emma, I hear you cry, everyone knows what an avocado is! They do indeed. But I’ve chosen it because it has really interesting etymology (not an oxymoron if you’re a word geek like me).
The word avocado comes from the Aztec (technically Nahuatl Indian) word ‘ahuácatl’ which means, wait for it... testicle. Whether that’s because of its shape or the fact that the Aztecs thought it was an aphrodisiac is up for debate. In 1915 a group of American avocado farmers met up to talk about the fact that they weren’t selling very well. They decided it was because ‘ahuácatl’ was too hard for people to say (and, presumably, they didn’t appreciate the whole testicle thing). So they just changed the name. They also decided that the plural would be ‘avocados’, not ‘avocadoes’ which was very conscientious of them (I appreciate that). They then wrote to dictionary publishers to let them know that they’d renamed the ahuácatl. And, somehow, everyone just got on board with it.
Avocados have also been rebranded much more recently. When M&S started stocking them in the 60s, they were sold as ‘avocado pears’ (even though botanically they’re actually large berries). They immediately got lots of complaints from customers who’d stewed them and served them with custard, which was obviously disgusting. So M&S stores then started giving out leaflets with each avocado explaining that they were for salads, not for dessert. (Thanks to the No Such Thing As A Fish podcast for the avocado info.)
Last year, M&S started selling stoneless avocados to try to reduce the amount of injuries that they cause. Yep, you did read that right. A&E departments now see regular cases of ‘avocado hand’ which can have serious surgical ramifications (even greatest-actress-of-her-generation Meryl Streep had to have hand surgery in 2012 after cutting herself while preparing an avocado – NO ONE’S SAFE). As someone who regularly injures herself in the kitchen (and elsewhere in the house – the other day I cut my thumb while I was in the bath), it’s probably quite lucky that I don’t like avocados.