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Re: Maize origins [was re: "Corn" in medieval Europe]

On Mon, 24 Feb 1997 11:31:45 -500, hmccullo@ecolan.sbs.ohio-state.edu
(Hu McCulloch) wrote:

>If blat de moro is Catalan for maize, that would suggest, to me at 
>least, that it was in Iberia before the Christian consolidation under
>Ferdinand and Isabella, and therefore before Columbus.

Not necessarily.  "Moro" in Catalan (and Castillian) can mean
Maghrebin, Arab or Turkish (reflecting the political status of Northen
Africa, which was under Arab and then Turkish control).  It can also
stand for "muslim" in general.  Note also that ".... de moro" in
Catalan is a general expression for things exotic.  For instance:
"figa de moro" (Moorish fig), which is the name for the cactus fruit
("higo chumbo" in Castilian), also known as figa d'Indi in Eivissa
(Ibiza) and Alguerese Catalan (Sardinia, Italy).

And even if the name is pre-1492 (conquest of Granada), what did the
name mean?  One other thing I have found: the catalan name "moresc"
for maize (Tarragona province) is also used in Gascon ("morisco"), in
the Vall d'Aran (Catalonia) and in French SE Gascogne (Luchon).
However, Gascon "morisco" means "buckwheat" [J. Coromines, Diccionari
Etimologic i Complementari de la Llengua Catalana].

>Particularly in Portuguese, where today milho is maize, but surely
>this word must have started off as millet (L milium, proso millet = 
>panicum miliaceum).  Jeffreys cites some evidence that milho, 
>and in particular milho grosso, was already maize in the early
>16th century.
>>Note also the words for "sorghum": Fr. petit mil, Eng. milo, Egyptian
>>corn, great millet, Indian millet, Guinea corn.  Relevant words for
>>"buckwheat" are: Spa. trigo sarraceno, trigo morisco; Fr. ble'
>>sarrasin.  In Dutch, "boekweit" is first attested in 1441, "mais" in
>>1581 ("mais van Peru").
>Milo, although it sounds like millet, actually comes from Sesuto  
>(a Bantu language) maili, according to the MW 2nd Unabridged 
>Dictionary.  It is the English name of one variety of sorghum.
>Sorghum itself, according to Klein's Comprehensive Etym. Dict., 
>comes from Italian sorgo, from ML surgum, surcum, suricum, 
>from L. Syricum, ie grass of Syria.  

Thanks.  Those are interesting clarifications and additions.

>>Resuming, I'd say the chronology must have been:
>>1. buckwheat ("Turkish/Moorish/Sarrasin corn") introduced by the Turks
>>and Mongols from the 13th century onwards, first to the Russians and
>>Poles (where buckwheat "kasha" is still a staple food).
>What is your evidence that buckwheat was ever "Turkish corn"?  

Only the origin of buckwheat itself in Central Asia, the Turkic
homeland.  Buckwheat was *surely* introduced by the Turks, and it is
reasonable to assume that one of its names should have been "Turkish
grain" or some such word.  And indeed it is consistently called
Turkish/Sarracen where it has an "ethnic" denomination (Spanish,
French).  Gascon "morisco" is ambiguous (as it can mean all of
Berber/Arab/Turkish).  The fact that "moresc/blat de moro" is "maize"
in Catalan suggests, to me at least, that the name was transferred to
a new kind of exotic cereal, maize, when that became available and
proved to be much more useful than buckwheat.
But I have no Italian etymological dictionary to trace the origin of
the word "granturco".  Nor Greek aravositos.

>If sorghum is "Syrian grass", perhaps it was in Italy etc. before the 
>African explorations, even if it ultimately of African origin, and even 
>if other varieties were later introduced directly from Africa.

Who knows what the cereal the Romans called "suricum" would have been
called nowadays.  Some variety of millet/sorghum probably.  Sorghum is
not indigenous to West Africa, but was introduced from the
Egypt/Sudan/Ethiopia area.  What makes it specifically the "Guinea
corn" is the fact that it was the main staple in West Africa before
the introduction of maize.  Wheat and barley, the staples of the Near
East, were apparently not grown there (climate question?), and the
West African neolithic/Iron Age was based on sorghum (and cattle).

Miguel Carrasquer Vidal                     ~ ~
Amsterdam                   _____________  ~ ~
mcv@pi.net                 |_____________|||

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