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A deep dive into cucurbit names How Latin confused cucumbers and watermelons


anguria One of the most fascinating things about pumpkins and squashes is what people call them. The whole summer squash, squash, pumpkin thing is confusing enough, and that’s to say nothing of courgettes and zucchini, which I explored in a podcast a few weeks ago. One of the people I talked to for that was Harry Paris, an Israeli researcher who has done more than anyone to disentangle the rampant thickets of cucurbit history. While not strictly anything to do with zucchini, while I had him on the line, I asked him to shed a little light on one of the great mysteries of Italian fruit names.

The scientific, Latin name for watermelon is Citrullus, but depending on where you are in Italy, the Italian for watermelon is either anguria or cocomero which, to me, sounds way too much like cucumber. But the Italian for cucumber is cetriolo, and that sounds like citrullus, for watermelon. As for anguria, you better just listen.

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  1. Illustrations from a 14th century manuscript, Liber de herbis et plantis by Manfredi de Monte Imperiali.


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  • Chris Aldrich




  • Though today Europeans often think of watermelon as American, watermelons are originally African; they were domesticated in Sudan, Libya, and Egypt by the early Bronze Age. The red color and sweetness are both mutations that Africans bred in.

  • 14th century watermelons, from Liber de herbis et plantis by Manfredi de Monte Imperiali. Latin for watermelon is citrullus, but Italian is cocomero or anguria, while cucumber is cetriolo. Confused? I was, till Harry Paris sorted me out a while ago…

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