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The word aubergine simply means eggplant.

Now the eggplant may seem like a rather homely offering from the garden. Granted, its culinary appeal is far from universal (though I would contend that many folks have never tasted it well-prepared). But I’ve come to enjoy cooking with it as an adult, and I’ve been a fan of its skin’s midnight purple — which can also be called aubergine — since I was a kid.

Botanically, the plant’s closest cousins include the humble potato and tomato. The word’s pedigree, however, is downright exotic. You can probably guess that English borrowed it from the French, who rounded its vowels and softened its consonants, but its etymological journey traces back through Catalan and Arabic, into the unwritten history of Persia.

To fully appreciate the word aubergine, you have to say it aloud. So go on. (No one’s listening.) Draw out the spacious oh, big and round like the vegetable’s end. Travel the length of the second syllable, moving through the r to the luxurious buzz of the lazy g. Then finish up at the stem end, with the smaller ee vowel and the resonant n. It’s delicious, I tell you — better than eggplant parmigiana.

If you’re going to add the term to your own lexicon, be aware that it’s mostly the Brits and Aussies who use it for the vegetable. Here in the States, it’s usually the color we’re talking about. Either way, it’s quite common: a quick search at Google News shows the word cropping up most often with regard to cooking and fashion.

Oh, aubergine: such a delight for the eyes, the ear, and the palate.



March 2010

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