7 junio, 2024

Where does the word chile come from?

The chile word refers to the fruit of the plant of the genus capsicumalso known as hot pepper, red pepper or chili pepper. This term comes from the Nahuatl voice chilli. These fruits are notorious for their bright red, yellow, or green color, and for their pungent flavor.

The Nahuatl word began to be used in Spanish at the beginning of the 16th century, approximately. The word in Nahuatl indicated the same thing: a very hot chili pepper.

A short time later, its use spread to other languages, such as English, as can be seen in the text by Henry Stubbe (1662) titled Discourse Concerning Chocolata (speech about chocolate), in which he expresses: Some pepper called chille… was put in (“They added a pepper called chili”).

Etymology of the word «chili»

The term «chili» comes from Mesoamerica, specifically from the Nahuatl language. This language was spoken by the inhabitants of these regions since the 7th century BC.

Nahuatl was an ideographic language (representing ideas and not letters). For this reason, the Spanish romanized the term taking into account the pronunciation of the Aztecs and came up with the written form “chilli”.

One of the first written references to this word is found in the texts of Francisco Hernández de Toledo, originally in Latin.

A doctor and botanist, Hernández de Toledo was commissioned by King Felipe II to study the medicinal plants of the New World.

in your text Four books on the nature and medicinal virtues of the plants and animals of New SpainHernández de Toledo refers to the “chilli tree”:

CHAP. X Of the tree Qvellaman Holquahuitl, or chilli tree

Of this tree called holquahuitl, there are two genera, the one that produces a tawny lime trunk, full of a slow and sticky core, white flowers, and very large leaves, and that have round, star-like veins that blond throw courage, attached to the same trunk full of white fruit the size of covered hazelnuts with several yellow skins, and bitter taste, the other has orange leaves, but larger, the bark of both trees is bitter.

From the description and image presented in his book, it is possible that Hernández del Toledo is referring to the Peruvian white habanero.

Currently, in Spanish the term is no longer written “chilli”, but “chile”, with a single exception: the Texan dish chili con carne, perhaps due to the influence of the English language.

Chile, the pepper and Chile, the country

The idea that the word «chile» (pepper) is related to the country Chile because of its resemblance to chili pepper, is very old and is also false.

According to Oxford English Dictionaryin 1631 both terms were confused for the first time, the botanist Jacobus Bontius being responsible for this confusion.

The name of the country Chile surely comes from the word mapuche (or aimara, or quechua) chiliwhich means “cold” or “winter”.

The Incas also had a term to indicate «border», and it was chilli, of Quechua origin. With this word, they called the southern part of their empire, the south of the Atacama desert. According to some records, the Araucanians (Mapuches) were such brave warriors that the Incas could not reach further south, so they called this area, chilliconfine.


chili. Retrieved from en.wikipedia.org.
chili. Retrieved from en.wiktionary.org.

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