Tuesday, 18th February 2014

by Joshua Gaskell

Another very poor doncher know from Starbucks:

The word vanilla, derived from the Spanish word vaina [sic] simply translates as little pod. Called tlilxochitl by the Aztecs, and [sic] Spanish conquistador Hernán Cortés is credited with introducing both vanilla and chocolate to Europe in the 1520s.

Vanilla is a naturalised English word, so there’s no question of translating it. It means what it means, which in the first instance, it’s true, is ‘A pod produced by one or other species of the genus Vanilla’ (OED).

However, if we’re interested in translations, the Spanish word vaina is a good place to start. ‘Pod’ is a specific, botanical sense, but the “simplest” translation of vaina is ‘scabbard’ or ‘sheath’. This is because it derives in turn from the Latin vāgīna. Ironically, this saddles the term vanilla sex – ‘safe, unadventurous’ (OED) – with unintended but implicit advocacy of, as it were, Cortés’s second flavour.