Word Count: 664
After I wrote my post Afterburner, a commenter made the obvious connection to another kind of food. When I mentioned this to my wife, she just said, “Duh”, and I shook my head in disbelief that I’d missed such low hanging fruit in my original post.
Whereas the Romanian word usturoi (garlic) comes from an old Latin verb for “to singe” or “to scorch”, it’s also true that the Latin verb ardere (to burn) is the genesis for the modern Romanian word ardei.
The simple translation for ardei is “pepper”, but literally thanks to the personal ignorance of Christopher Columbus, this word makes no sense, and leads to a lot of confusing terms in European languages.
The genocidal moron first encountered “peppers” in the New World, and thus named these completely different plants with the same term as “regular” black pepper, the spice many people have in their kitchens today. Likewise, he also thought he had landed in India, so today millions of indigenous people in the Western Hemisphere are still called Indians even though they have zero relation to India the sub-continent. Sigh…
In English, depending on where you live, you might call one kind of New World pepper a “capsicum” (primarily Australia and NZ), a “bell pepper”, a “green pepper”, or a “sweet pepper”. The last term is probably the best one, as the most popular version of peppers are completely without capsaicin, the ingredient that causes your mouth to burn.
In Romanian, ardei just means (New World) pepper, but to distinguish between the different types, usually ardei gras (literally “fat pepper”) refers to the sweet kind, while ardei iute refers to the hot kind. Since ardei is already derived from the Latin verb “to burn”, this makes ardei iute of unusual coinage, literally mean something like “spicy hot burner”.
Note: many English speakers refer to the hot peppers as “chiles” or “chillis” (multiple spellings), as this was an Indian (i.e. Western Hemisphere) name for the “pepper” family, only some of which were hot (spicy). Meanwhile in Romanian and Russian, “chili” usually refers to Indian (from India the country, not the Americas) style spicy powder, usually made from cayenne (a specific kind of hot pepper originally from the Americas) or a blend of cayenne and other hot peppers.
In Romania (and to a lesser extent, the Republic of Moldova), a variant of (sweet/bell/capsicum) peppers exist that have no known name in English, called gogosari, which literally means “big donut”, in reference to the fact that gogosari are often more round than regular peppers. Gogoasa just means “round” or “spherical”, so when it refers to the fried sweet food, it literally means “rounds” but effectively we’re talking about donuts, so the whole thing comes out pretty hilarious, if you ask me.
Likewise in Russian, the same word перец (peretz) is used for both black pepper as well as sweet/bell peppers, which are called “Bulgarian peppers” (болгарский перец) for some unknown but comical reason.
Spanish differentiates black pepper (pimiento) with just a single letter from bell pepper (pimienta), while Italians chose the more humorous method of differentiating black pepper (pepe) from green/bell/sweet pepper with a superlative (peperone). French did roughly the same thing (poivre/poivron).
And, if all of the above isn’t confusing enough to you, paprika is yet another term derived from pepper, referring to a special kind of mildly hot “peppers” from the New World. Some Germanic languages refer to all peppers as “paprika”, distinguishing between them by color (i.e. “green paprika” for bell pepper).
Although strongly identified with Hungary today, the paprika pepper (which isn’t super hot, but is also not completely sweet) is originally from the New World. Many Romanians who want to avoid using the “Hungarian” word for the ground-up spice made from the plant thus refer to paprika as boia de ardei (literally “burner paint”), although on this side of the Prut River it’s always just called paprica.
AND NOW YOU KNOW!