Friday, 2 May 2014

Chocolate - The Most Delicious Etymology (Bar None)

A single chocolate
As if one is ever enough ...
(photo by Kirti Poddar)


Noun & adjective. Early 17th century.
[French chocolat or Spanish chocolate, from Nahuatl chocolatl article of food made from cacao seed;
influenced by unrelated cacaua-atl drink made from cacao.]

A1 noun. A drink made of prepared chocolate (sense 2) dissolved in hot milk or water. E17

A2 noun. An edible paste or solid made from cacao seeds by roasting, grinding, etc.;
a small sweet or confection made of or covered with chocolate. M17

A3 noun. = CACAO noun 3 (compare with chocolate-tree below). Now rare or obsolete. M18

A4 noun. A dark brown colour. L18

B attrib. or as adj. Of or resembling the colour or flavour of chocolate; dark brown. L18

A white cup of frothy hot chocolate
Woah, woah! Don't hold the marshmallows just coz I'm a guy ...
(photo by Erick Houli)
Chocolate - be it chocolate cake, hot chocolate, chocolate sauce, chocolate milkshake, chocolate covered chocolate - I am rather partial to it. So much so that I'm doubtful I will manage to get through this post without wandering downstairs to see if we might, just might, have any chocolate somewhere in the house. I will try ... I will be strong ... because ... chocolate is a jolly interesting word ...

Yes, it is! So next time you're feeling guilty about giving into temptation and are chowing down on an extra large Snickers, remind yourself that it's just your keen interest in etymology and language that has brought you to this delicious place. And if anyone doubts you, tell them these delectable facts:

A topless model showing off his six-pack
I have chocolate bars, but with very different results
(photo by Terry George)
The word chocolate ultimately comes from the Nahuatl language, spoken by various peoples including the Aztecs in what is now southern Mexico and Central America. However, it doesn't come clean - those saucy Spaniards, too busy conquistadoring through the Americas to bother with good linguistics, mixed up the food, chocolatl, with the cacao seed drink cacaua-atl. Thus, originally in English, the word chocolate referred to a drink and not a food.

Chocolate is referenced in various phrases. If you're French, for example, you might say someone has tablettes de chocolat (literally 'chocolate bars'), meaning that he has a six-pack, which is ironic considering what chocolate's done to my six-pack. It's also used in Cockney rhyming slang, with "I should cocao" meaning "I should say so." If something is described as chocolate-box, it means conventional in an idealised way, such as the pictures that appeared on chocolate boxes in Victorian times. Something can be described as 'useless as a chocolate tea-pot' (I've also heard 'fire-guard'), and a chocolate soldier is a soldier that refuses to fight.

Liquid chocolate pouring out of a machine
I now understand the term 'food porn'
(photo by Moyan Brenn)
And finally, chocolate is absolutely, divinely, unfathomably heavenly to eat. OK, that's got nothing to do with etymology, but I can stand it no longer - I'm off to root through the kitchen cupboards in the vain hope that someone's left a Galaxy bar lying about. In the meantime ...

Are you a chocoholic?

Do you know any other chocolatey facts?

Do please sweeten this post with your most delectable comments in the box below.


  1. Winner of best joke at last year's Edinburgh fringe:
    I heard that Cadburys are bringing out a new Oriental themed chocolate bar this year, but it could just be a Chinese Wispa.

    Boom boom.

    1. Oh my ... I dread to think what the runners up were like ...

      Mind you, on chocolate based puns, I'd be Lion if I said I had anything better in my box of Twix ...


      Yeah. It's really difficult.

  2. I like the story that back in the days when Spain controlled the chocolate market as the new commodity was being introduced to Europe, English privateers when capturing Spainish ships transporting the processed cocoa beans would hurl the cargo overboard not realising its true worth and mockingly call it in bad Spanish "cagarruta de carnero" or in English "sheep shit" - think of that next time you bite into your Fruit n' Nut bar or popping Minstrels in your mouth.

    Samuel Pepys noted in his diary for the 24th of November 1664 "To a Coffee-house, to drink jocolatte, very good" Where he uses the now obsolete word "jocolatte" he's referring to what we'd call 'hot chocolate' or 'cocoa' ....think I might start using "jocolatte" again!

    1. Oh of all the crimes!

      I mean I know some bad stuff went on in those days, but wantonly chucking chocolate overboard ... ?!

      I didn't know that story, or that of 'jocolatte', although that does rather sound like something you could buy in Starbucks - kind of like a latte, but funnier.

    2. I work on a port so I've had the opportunity to taste raw cocoa beans, they're disgusting extremely bitter with an unpleasant bland soapy taste and texture.

  3. I think I can remember every chocolate ad ever on telly!

    1. Cadbury's Flake! Which, seemingly, is so distractingly delicious that it makes one completely unconcerned about water damage.

  4. I know you know this, Eddie, but as a public service, can I point out that "I should coco(a)" is only ever used sarcastically? It's pretty much the 1930s version of "yeah, right".

    1. Public and Eddie service, Sally! I didn't know that - I only know that piece of CRS from books, and, would you Adam and Eve it, none of them ever pointed out that it's only used sarcastically. Thank you!