Why do the Americans call it “egg plant?…. and a tale of two fanny`s”

“Used in present-day English chiefly by America speakers as a synonym for the aubergine, aubergine was originally applied specifically to the white-skinned, egg-shaped variety of the vegetable. This was in the mid-eighteenth century (available evidence suggests that the term predates aubergine by about 30 years). By the middle of the nineteenth century aubergine had come to be used for the purple-skinned aubergine, and subsequently over the past hundred years, the split between American and British usage has developed.”
So sayeth page 118 of the A-Z of Food & Drink by John Ayto (2002)p. 118)

 

Which brings me onto the famous Oscar Wilde quote, that Britain and America were two nations divided by a common language.

What follows has absolutely nothing to do with vegetables but is a lovely tale to tell nevertheless. The word in question is “fanny”

Fanny still arouses transatlantic confusion; both words mean either vagina in the UK or bottom in America. The U.S fanny emerged in the 1920`s from where , nobody seems to know. It was a fast traveler though, crossing the Atlantic in time to make it into Noel Coward`s 1930 comedy Private Lives.

Our fanny is a lot older than the Americans. It’s been around as a vagina word since the mid nineteenth century. In George Speight`s Bawdy Songs of the Early Music Hall (1975) there is a splendid little ditty with the refrain

I`ve got a little fanny/ That with hair is overspread.

Eric Partridge (1894 – 1979) the etymologist and editor of the OED suggested that the title of John Clelands Fanny Hill (1749) is a cross language pun on the Latin mons veneris , literally, Venus`s mountain. It is not clear, however, which came first, the heroines name or the meaning of her name.

Some Shakespearean scholars insist that fanny is a reference to the triangular shape of a fan. As in Romeo and Juliet (2: 4) when Mercurio says of the nurse

Hide her face, for her fan`s the fairer face.

 

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *