Peachy keen

by Mellissa Martinez

One of the best things about summer is the taste of a succulent peach. Since Claremont trees are almost ready for the picking, why not look a little further into the root of this delicious fruit? Sometimes the etymology of a fruit can lead us back to its country of origin and sometimes it takes us on a journey of various countries and languages. In the case of the peach, there are many tales to tell.

It was the ancient Iranians who introduced the peach to the Greeks sometime around 300 BC. The Greeks, who had never seen the delicious fruit, called it a Persian apple or Persikon malon. In fact, in Ancient Greek, Persikos meant both ‘Persian’ and ‘peach.’ Eventually Latin adopted the word malum Persicum, Persian apple, which was passed on to French as pesche, and many years later, it arrived in English as peach. 

Many languages got their name for peach from the Greeks’ reference to the Persians including Italian pesche, Romanian piersic, Portuguese pessego, Russian piersika and German pfirsich. Additionally, the botanical name Prunis Persicica still refers to Persia.  Spanish differs from most European languages with its word for peach melacoton, literally ‘cotton-skinned apple.’

Although Persians may have provided the name to many European languages, they were not the first to grow the fruit. Genetic tests and ancient writings suggest that the origin of the peach is Chinese. Peaches are mentioned in Chinese ancient writing samples from 900 BC, but it is believed that they were a favorite fruit of emperors as early as 2000 BC. It is believed that the Chinese carried them to India and western Asian countries, including Iran. In Hindi, the peach is called aru, in Turkish, seftali, and in Chinese, tao zi.

Some other summer fruits derived their names from the peach. The word nectarine, for example, first came to English in the 1600s. Inspired from the German nektarpfirsich, or ‘nectar-peach,’ English speakers chose the version nectrine meaning ‘of or like nectar.’ Eventually it transitioned to nectarine. Apricot got its name because it was believed to be a pre-cooked peach. The Romans originally called it the malum Armeniacum, or Armenian apple, as it came from Armenia. Given that the apricot ripened earlier than the peach, they began to call it malum praecoquum from prae-, ‘early’ and coquum, ‘cook.’ Eventually precoquum transitioned to apricot. Precoquum also lead to ‘precocious,’ meaning ‘developed before the usual time.’

Once the word peach reached English, it took on a life of its own, accruing various idiomatic meanings having to do with beauty and goodness. Many scholars think that this association comes from ancient cultures who believed that the peach carried a sexual connotation. In the late 1700s it was used to describe an attractive woman and in the early 1900s a good person. Peaches and cream refers to a creamy complexion and in the 1950s a good situation was described as “peachy-keen jelly bean.”

The word impeach is not connected to the fruit. It comes from the Old French empeechier, ‘hinder.’ This was derived from the Latin pedica, ‘shackle’ and earlier pes, ‘foot.’ In the 1560s, the verb ‘to peach’ meant ‘to inform against.’ Eventually this very became ‘appeach’ and later ‘impeach.’ 

In the peach’s native home of China, it is a symbol of longevity, fertility, immortality, protective magic, youth and spring. In short, the peach is a darn good thing. If you’re one of the lucky Claremonters who owns your own tree, enjoy and share with good friends. After all, the peach has traveled a long way to get to your backyard!


Submit a Comment

Share This