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The word pineapple made more sense when everything was apples

Pineapples obviously don’t resemble apples, but they used to. This isn’t because pineapples used to have thin peals and white flesh before humans started cultivating them, but because people’s concept of what an apple is has changed since the fruit was first identified by European explorers. For hundreds of years, the word apple could be used for just about any unknown fruit, even if they were in no way related to plants in the Malus genus. Following this logic, peaches were first known as “Persian apples,” and bananas were once “finger apples.” This then leaves us with the “pine” in name pineapple, which still doesn’t make much sense.

Since pineapples don’t even grow on trees, it’s clear that nobody thought these tropical fruits were somehow growing on spruce or redwoods. What they did think is that pineapples looked a lot like pine cones, which, in 16th century, were still called pine apples themselves, since they produced seeds while growing in a tree. So from a 16th century perspective, pineapples do look like their namesake, at least before we changed the name of the plants that were being referred to. In the case of pine cones, the use of the word cone was borrowed from the Greek kōnos, and eventually passed from more academic botanical discussions to common English by the 18th century.

When is an apple not a fruit?

Apple is obviously no longer a generic term, now used exclusively for expensive computer hardware or the fruit of the Malus pumila tree. The word fruit itself is now our best generic term for tree-bound produce, although it too has a narrower definition than it used to. In the late 12th century, fruit could be any “useful” portion of a plant, with etymological roots in words for enjoyment and satisfaction. At some point, it could even be used for any product grown from soil, from nuts to veggies, and so the idea of a reward being the “fruit of one’s labor” barely qualifies as a metaphor.

Today, fruit covers a lot of the ground that the word apple used to, but it has also gained a strict, botanical definition. The funny thing is that since fruits are “seed-bearing structures in angiosperms formed from the ovary after flowering,” pine cones, as the original pineapples, can’t really be considered fruit at all. With pineapple’s linguistic connections being erased bit by bit, maybe it’s time English speakers simply joined the rest of the world and picked up the word Ananas. It wouldn’t be any more confusing than what we’re saying now.

Source: A Pineapple Is An Apple (Kind Of), Merriam-Webster Word History

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