mango — this sweetly fragrant, succulent tropical fruit (Mangifera indica) is called mân in Tamil; the Tamil word for 'unripe fruit' is kây, so mân-kây became mangga in Malay and then mango in English via Portuguese. Why do we call the mango after its unripe version? Maybe because of commerce: fruit merchants shipped green mangoes because of their longer shelf life, to ripen later, and the non-Tamil merchants were used to hearing "mân-kây", so that became the basis of their word for them. When Tamilians eat mangoes, they call them mâm-palam, using the word for ripe fruit.
May 20 2006, 9:45 PM