The spread of gurkor, pepinos and cucumbers

An etymology geek’s idea of fun: tracking the twists and shifts of a word throughout its “native” ranges. Portugal remains united in its embrace of pepino, but Spain seems to have a split personality. That Galicia would be French-influenced is understandable, but what happened to the Spanish east coast? I’m also fascinated by the spread of the North African/Middle Eastern influence far into the interior of western Russia…


Hat tip to Alma, who eats a gurka now and then.


About Fletcher DeLancey

Socialist heathen and Mac-using author of the Chronicles of Alsea, who enjoys pondering science, politics, well-honed satire (though sarcastic humor can work, too) and all things geeky.
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5 Responses to The spread of gurkor, pepinos and cucumbers

  1. Alma says:

    Hahaha! I eat gurkor, is the proper pluralization. One gurka, several gurkor. 😀
    By the way, a gherkin is a small cucumber. Oh yes, I do so love etymology!

    • oregon expat says:

      Oops! Thank you for the correction; all fixed now.

      You might be interested to know that we buy pickled gherkins in the stores here — because to the Portuguese, the word “pickles” doesn’t refer to pickled cucumbers, but rather to sliced pickled cucumbers *in combination with* pickled carrots and cauliflower. And that stuff is strong! You’ve got to love vinegar to eat it.

  2. Lisa Shaw says:

    I heard this song once years ago and always think of it when the topic of pickles comes up in conversation. 😉

  3. Zero says:

    Picked gherkins are a favourite here in the UK too. So too are “mixed pickles” – gherkin/cauliflower/silverskin onions. “Pickle” can mean those. Or picked red cabbage.

    Or “pickle” can (and generally does when speaking of cheese-and-pickle sandwiches) refer to Branston’s (which I loathe) or piccalilli which is mixed pickles in a mustard sauce – which I love.

  4. Ana_ñ says:

    What a great post! The Geography of the Cucumber or Travelling with Pepino 🙂

    Regarding your question about Spain, I’m not aware of any French influence in Galicia in relation to this word. Spanish (Castilian) is the official language in all the country, but there are other languages co-official in certain zones.

    We can see the Latin word ‘cucumis’ behind many of the languages in this map. And in the case of Spain, we see it in Galician language and in Catalan language — and its variants: Balear and Valencian, which you see in part of the East coast and in the Balearic Islands. I looked up cucumber in Galician and Catalan dictionaries, finding ‘cogombro’ and ‘cogombre’, respectively. I also searched in a Basque dictionary and found two words, ‘luzoker’ and ‘pepino’; the second one must be a loanword from Spanish because Basque is the only non-Romance language in Spain.

    Spanish dictionary says that ‘pepino’, comes from the Latin Word ‘pepo’ (which comes from the Greek word πέπων), meaning melon. Some dictionary also says its scientific name is ‘Cucumis sativus’. Now, surprise! Spanish has other word in two variants, ‘cogombro’ and ‘cohombro’, defined as a variety of the ‘pepino’ (scientific name: ‘Cucumis flexuosus’) So, we also have a derivative from ‘cucumis’. But I must say that this is not a very common word, the frequent one is ‘pepino’

    The Spanish name for gherkin is ‘pepinillo’ as in pickled gherkins, but you also can find here different thinks pickled. I like some of them, not others. And, by the way, raw cucumbers repeat on me. 😉

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