Cannibal Cupertino

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Sent in by Molshri Ezekiel via David Donnell:

This is presumably not a translation error (except insofar as a language barrier may have impeded proofreading) but an autocorrect error for "aubergine" — which is a vegetable that Americans call "eggplant", and what "bagan" means in Hindi.

Someone will probably be able to figure out what the input was, and which release of which word processing program was responsible for the error.

Here's a similar menu item in Goa.

And the substitution was previously covered at length by Arnold Zwicky ("aborigine / aubergine",12/2/2008), who points out that

The variant aborigine 'eggplant' is widespread in food writing (especially in menu items and recipes).

Arnold argues that it's usually a genuine confusion, not just an uncaught cupertino, but I'm not entirely convinced.


  1. Eric P Smith said,

    October 23, 2013 @ 5:22 am

    what non-Americans call "eggplant"

    It's ‘aubergine’ in the UK.

    [(myl) Sorry, slip of the brain on a rushed morning. Should be "What Americans call 'eggplant'". Fixed now.]

  2. Goatherd said,

    October 23, 2013 @ 5:37 am

    Eric P Smith,

    The entire relative clause

    > "aubergine", which is what non-Americans call "eggplant"

    suggests that only Americans call it "eggplant". I think you got it backwards.

  3. tuncay said,

    October 23, 2013 @ 5:43 am

    @Eric P Smith, I think that's what myl meant (non-americans call eggplant aubergine) but his sentence (either the quotes or the connective) is confusing/misleading, I agree. [ "aubergine", which is what non-Americans call "eggplant", ] looks like it's open to the interpretations :

    1- "aubergine" is what non-Americans call the thing we, Americans, know as eggplant.
    2- "aubergine", also known as eggplant by non-Americans.

    I am sure a professional linguist will be able to address why this confusion arises. :-)

  4. Avinor said,

    October 23, 2013 @ 5:46 am

    The Oxford dictionary in my Mac says that "eggplant" is "N. Amer.". Fits my own experience; my exposure to the word comes from American infomercials.

    Ah, never mind. I think that is what Prof. Liberman actually meant. Its seems that the sentence in question can be read both ways.

  5. Victor Mair said,

    October 23, 2013 @ 5:51 am

    "aborigine / aubergine"
    (already mentioned by Mark in the original post)





    "aborigine/aubergine and cupertinos"

  6. Jim Breen said,

    October 23, 2013 @ 6:16 am

    In Australia they are usually called "eggplant", but aubergine is also used. See: "Also known as aubergine, eggplant are a rich and flavoursome vegetable …."

  7. NW said,

    October 23, 2013 @ 6:19 am

    I thought 'brinjal' was the (English) Indian name for them.

  8. Ray Girvan said,

    October 23, 2013 @ 6:59 am

    As a UK speaker, I've only ever encountered the term "brinjal" in the context of Patak's Brinjal Pickle and on curry restaurant menus.

  9. Ellen K. said,

    October 23, 2013 @ 7:27 am

    I noticed the ambiguity in "which is what Americans call "eggplant"" before reading the comments. It could mean either Americans call it eggplant, or Americans call it (cuts and pastes to spell correctly) aubergine.

  10. James said,

    October 23, 2013 @ 7:53 am

    Yeah, I remember getting a Trivial Pursuit question: "What do the French call La Tour Eiffel?" And I was just dumbfounded. Why, that is what they call it, obviously!

  11. tpr said,

    October 23, 2013 @ 8:08 am

    According to Google searches limited by each country's domain eggplant is more common than aubergine in Australia, Canada, New Zealand, and South Africa. The Brits seem to be siding with Europe for once.

  12. dw said,

    October 23, 2013 @ 8:17 am


    I thought 'brinjal' was the (English) Indian name for them.

    If you go to the English Wikipedia entry for eggplant (or indeed aubergine) then click on the link to the corresponding article in Hindi Wikipedia, you will end up at बैंगन (baingan; phonetically approximately [bɛŋgən]). The first sentence of the Hindi Wikipedia article claims that the English equivalent is, guess what, "brinjal"!

    So "brinjal" (a word I've never heard, except in discussions like this) appears to be what Hindi-speakers think is the English word for "aubergine"/"eggplant" is. Maybe it's used in Indian English.

  13. marie-lucie said,

    October 23, 2013 @ 9:32 am

    When I first came to North America I was suprised to see roundish aubergines, called "eggplants" but otherwise recognizable by the typical shiny purple skin. The French aubergines are not egg-shaped but longer, and swollen at the end. More recently I have encountered Chinese "eggplants", which are definitely not egg-shaped but long and thin, more like "English" cucumbers in shape, and with pale mauve rather than deep purple skin.

  14. Paolo said,

    October 23, 2013 @ 9:58 am

    @marie-lucie, same in Italy, melanzane come in various shapes and the two colours you mention, but the most common ones are the long, dark purple ones.
    Incidentally, no Italian dictionary in the word processing program that was used to write the menu. The correct spelling is either melanzana arrostita (singular, unlikely as I doubt it wouldn't be served whole) or melanzane arrostite (plural); the adjective arrosto does exist but it is used mainly for meat.

  15. SlideSF said,

    October 23, 2013 @ 10:16 am

    First Nations for first course? Can't we just let baigans be baigans?

  16. Robert Coren said,

    October 23, 2013 @ 10:19 am

    My guess is that someone misspelled aubergine in some way, and the spell-checker picked the nearest thing it could find.

    It is mystifying to me that restaurants don't generally have access to a spell-check dictionary that specializes in culinary terms. I still remember a story from a friend about an item on the menu of his partner's restaurant appearing as "baked brie with carmelite onions"; although nobody ever said so, I'm convinced that the typist employed the common misspelling "carmelized" (and, obviously, failed in proofreading the final copy).

    (Another story from around the same time involved a menu offering "masculine greens", presumably the spell-checker's best guess from a mangling of mesclun. I pointed out that the restaurant was lucky it hadn't ended up with "mescaline greens".)

  17. Mark said,

    October 23, 2013 @ 10:51 am

    @NW, Ray Girvan: the names brinjal and bagan are both in use in India, though in different contexts. The latter word, most normally transliterated baingan (but also existing as baigan, bagan, etc. in different dialects of Hindi and in related forms in other Indo-Aryan languages) is, I think, the most common 'native' word, supposed to be borrowed ultimately from a Dravidian source into Sanskrit (the story is a bit more complicated than this – there were two different words in the older language, and they have left different reflexes). This word was then borrowed into Persian, and thence to Arabic, from where it reached Europe and was borrowed in various guises.

    Brinjal, on the other hand, is from Portuguese b(e)rinjela, which comes from the Arabic form, and this Portuguese word was borrowed into Anglo-Indian usage (presumably from Portuguese-speaking communities in India) in the seventeenth century. My Gujarati relatives often use the word 'brinjal' when speaking English, but do not when speaking Gujarati – though, to complicate things, the Gujarati word they normally use is ringan, though I think that is an alteration from the 'regular' form veṅgaṇ (which is the equivalent of the Hindi/Urdu baingan).

    So therefore, it's not a surprise that brinjal will turn up on English-language restaurant menus, or as the name of a Patak's product. Famously the brand name Patak's is from the transcribed surname Pathak, but the -h- was dropped so that UK consumers wouldn't pronounce the internal consonant as /θ/ (in the spelling of the surname it indicates an aspirated consonant).

    I am not an expert on these languages though, so someone may well correct me on all this!

  18. Peter said,

    October 23, 2013 @ 10:54 am

    These sorts of errors, combining typos/misspellings with translation, are unusual but often fantastic when they do occur. My all-time personal favourite language mis-step was one such: a sign in a French hotel I stayed at, “Do not throw kidney in the toilet.” It was the mid-90’s, so I can only assume some hurried hotelier had simply looked up rein instead of rien in their bilingual dictionary, and not known enough English to pick up on the mistake?

  19. Cameron said,

    October 23, 2013 @ 11:49 am

    The article headed "brinjaul" in Hobson Jobson has a wealth of information on this interesting word:

  20. G Jones said,

    October 23, 2013 @ 11:54 am

    @ James

    I'm not sure there's anything wrong with that question ("What do the French call La Tour Eiffel?"). It's saying: "There's something out there that the French call La Tour Eiffel. What is that object?"

    The answer, to an English speaker, would be, "The Eiffel Tower."

  21. BobW said,

    October 23, 2013 @ 11:54 am

    Years ago, when turntables were a common consumer audio product, I opened one that had a tag "When transportating this unit be sure the screws are securely screwed up." Saved that tag for years. It was the transit screws that compressed the springs so that the turntable did not move while transporting.

  22. TR said,

    October 23, 2013 @ 12:13 pm

    What do the French call La Tour Eiffel?

    I'd never noticed the neat ambiguity that results with interrogative uses of ditransitive verbs like call. The declarative structure is A called B C, but with an interrogative it's What did X call Y?, and the syntax doesn't tell you whether Y = B or Y = C.

  23. Adrian said,

    October 23, 2013 @ 12:24 pm

    "Here in England, We call it aborigine."

  24. julie lee said,

    October 23, 2013 @ 12:35 pm


    When I was in English boarding school in India, "brinjal" was the name for aubergine or eggplant. Off topic: Curiously, in Chinese the tomato is classified as an eggplant. In Mandarin , aubergine/eggplant is called
    qiezi 茄子 or ke茄 (Cantonese) , and tomato is called fanqie 蕃茄/番茄 , or "fan eggplant" , fan 蕃 being short for Tu-fan 吐蕃 (Turfan, on the Silk Road), and fan 蕃 (Turfan) also stands for "foreign" or "Western", since Turfan was a great Western stop on the Silk Road west of China. So the Chinese name for tomato, fanqie 蕃茄, means literally "foreign or Western eggplant". And I'd say the cross-section of an eggplant does look somewhat like the cross-section of a tomato.

  25. James said,

    October 23, 2013 @ 12:38 pm

    G Jones, yes, of course.
    Here I was only giving another example of the ambiguity that several others had already noticed in MYL's what non-Americans call "eggplant". At the time I only got the unintended interpretation.

  26. julie lee said,

    October 23, 2013 @ 12:39 pm

    @G Jones, @BobW:
    Thanks for the laffs of the day.

  27. Alexander said,

    October 23, 2013 @ 1:33 pm

    @julie lee

    Eggplants are closely related to tomatoes botanically. They're both in the nightshade family (along with potatoes). Of course eggplants are from SE Asia while tomatoes are from Central America, so I guess these cousins have been separated for a while.

  28. Cameron said,

    October 23, 2013 @ 1:52 pm

    @Julie Lee

    The Chinese name for tomato is pretty similar to the Persian name. In Persian a tomato is a goje farangi, i.e. a western (literally "Frankish") goje. A goje, in turn, is a green plum-like fruit, a greengage. Unripe tomatoes look quite a bit like goje.

    I've often wondered if the English word greengage derives from Persian goje. There's a story that they are so called due to a connection with a person called William Gage. But that sounds to me like a folk etymology. They were supposedly introduced to the west via Turkey, which sounds quite plausible. The modern Turkish word for them is not goje, but a couple of hundred years ago the Turks may well have used that Persian word. (There is no shortage of borrowed Persian words for fruits and vegetables in Turkish.)

    Another new-world fruit is similarly named in Persian. The strawberry is called a tut farangi, i.e. a western mulberry. There were wild strawberries in Europe and northern Asia, but the cultivated variety were a new-world import.

  29. Chris Henrich said,

    October 23, 2013 @ 2:40 pm

    I just noticed that the ambiguity in the statement schema "A is what the B call C" disappears if the subordinate clause is transformed to the passive: "A is what C is called by the B."

    1. How weird is that? (I am not a linguist.)

    2. Another blow to the Prescriptivist Poppycock about the objectionability of the passive voice.

  30. dw said,

    October 23, 2013 @ 2:59 pm


    It's interesting that the Hobson-Jobson article sees "aubergine" as exclusively French, with no mention of any British English form. The only English equivalent given is "egg-plant". Maybe "aubergine" had yet to be borrowed into English in 1886 (or even 1903, the date of the second edition you link to).

  31. J. W. Brewer said,

    October 23, 2013 @ 3:38 pm

    There was a novelty semi-hit song (written/recorded by AmEng speakers) in 1967 called "The Eggplant That Ate Chicago," which is said to have inspired the title of the 1976 song by Hawkwind (BrEng speakers) "The Aubergine That Ate Rangoon." Looking at just the BrEng subcorpus of the google ngram viewer, the predominance of "aubergine" over "eggplant" in recent decades is not by a very large margin, but it's also possible that the data is dirty (i.e. if you dug down a lot of the "eggplant" hits would be from not-very-BrEng sources).

  32. julie lee said,

    October 23, 2013 @ 4:49 pm


    Many thanks for the botanical information on tomato and eggplant.

    Thanks. Yes, the thought process is similar. By the way, fan-yan (Cantonese), "fan-person" or "foreign person", is a common designation for the white (Caucasian) person.

  33. CuConnacht said,

    October 23, 2013 @ 5:40 pm

    There are eggplants that are the shape and (off-white) color of eggs, and perhaps the size of goose eggs. Presumably that's the variety that was first named eggplant.

    Brinjal, bagan, and aubergine are all etymologically the same word. Aubergine passed through Arabic al-badinjan and hung on to the definite article.

  34. Roger Lustig said,

    October 23, 2013 @ 5:44 pm

    @marie-lucie: some older varieties of eggplant are ovoid and bright white, sometimes with a yellow spot on the skin. Not usually available in the market, but still grown as a specialty. What would one call them if not egg plants?

  35. Lindsay Costelloe said,

    October 23, 2013 @ 6:10 pm

    I just did a quick test with MS Word using US English spell check. It does not recognize "aubergine", and the first recommended replacement is "aborigine".

  36. Ray Girvan said,

    October 23, 2013 @ 6:18 pm

    @Mark: brinjal
    Brilliant! Thanks for that background on that. Pardon the advertisement, but my wife and I (who are curry-fixated) stir Patak's Brinjal into just about everything we cook.

    As to the whole issue of eggplant vs aubergine, was the USA more exposed to the white cultivatars (which do look like eggs) than the UK?

  37. James said,

    October 23, 2013 @ 7:15 pm

    Cameron, hey, that is striking.

    What is called an 'aubergine' by non-Americans?
    What is an eggplant called by non-Americans?

    Now, one of the real linguists, please tell us why!

  38. James said,

    October 23, 2013 @ 7:17 pm

    Sorry, I meant to direct that at Chris Henrich. Or I should have meant to. I was thinking of the comment in fact posted by Chris Henrich, but mistakenly attributed it to Cameron.

  39. Alexander said,

    October 23, 2013 @ 8:49 pm

    @James @Chris Henrich

    First let me simplify your observation: in "A calls B C" sentences, only B can be the subject of a passive counterpart. This is especially clear if C is not a phrase of the language, but just a sound.

    (1) Baby Mary calls John "mffffpk".
    (2) John is called "mffffpk" [by Baby Mary].
    (3) *"Mfffpk" is called (John) [by Baby Mary].

    To explain this, you might relate it to several other generalizations about the passive, which I have exemplified below. It is fun to think about which generalizations are the most relevant.

    But first let me also note that verbs for "is named" often have an unusual syntax. If I remember correctly, the syntax of "heten" in earlier English is odd. And certainly "is named" is odd, since it has no natural active: "*They name me 'Alexander'."

    (4) Mary considers John a moron.
    (5) John is considered a moron by Mary.
    (6) *A moron is considered John by Mary.

    (7) Mary told John several charming stories.
    (8) John was told several charming stories by Mary
    (9) *Several stories were told John by Mary.

    (10) John weighs 80kg.
    (11) *80kg are weighed by John.

    (12) Mary whispered "mffffpk" very quietly.
    (13) ?? "Mffffpk" was whispered very quietly by John.

  40. David Morris said,

    October 23, 2013 @ 9:57 pm

    Yesterday I submitted my 15,000 word dissertation for a masters (honours) degree, on the topic of British experiences with and descriptions of indigenous languages in New South Wales in the early colonial period (1770-1801). I used the word 'indigenous' as an adjective whenever I could, eg indigenous peoples, cultures, languages, words, but there is no equivalent noun. (Well, there is 'indigene', but I wasn't going to use that.) In my draft, I called individual people 'a native' and two or more of them 'natives', but the professor advised me that that usage was fraught with racial/cultural overtones. To me 'Aborigine(s)' was even more so, but I found enough references, some by present-day Indigenous groups, to reconcile myself to using it.
    In the 1970s, the slang abbreviation 'Abos' was in wide use, but that is now seriously taboo. Possibly, not even present-day Indigenous people use the abbreviation in the way that some individuals and groups in the USA use 'nigger'. They do, however, still say 'black man' and 'white man' more easily than (middle class) Anglo-Australians would be able to.
    While serious conflict occurred later and further away as the frontier expanded, the relationship between the groups in the area immediately surrounding Sydney was generally peaceful, but then a smallpox epidemic in 1789 killed many of the Aborigines there. While there were inter-racial killings (deliberate or accidental), in the first few years, the British killed more Britons (mainly executions for stealing) and the Aborigines killed more Aborigines (mainly tribal law 'payback' attacks).

  41. tpr said,

    October 24, 2013 @ 8:13 am

    (1) The French call the Eiffel Tower La Tour Eiffel

    We can use what in place of "the Eiffel Tower" or "La Tour Eiffel" as in (2) and (3) respectively:

    (2a) The French call what La Tour Eiffel?
    (2b) What do the French call La Tour Eiffel?
    (3a) The French call the Eiffel Tower what?
    (3b) What do the French call the Eiffel Tower?
    The (b) sentences appear similar, but are related derivationally to different (a) sentences. Without knowing which (a) sentence is intended, you get ambiguity.

  42. TR said,

    October 24, 2013 @ 12:24 pm

    To add to Alexander's comment, the reason that those passives don't work is that the passive takes an object and makes it into the subject – but "mffffpk", "a moron", and "80 kgs" aren't objects in those sentences.

    Sentences (7-9) are a bit different, because "several stories" is an object; and in fact sentences like (9), e.g. A book was given me, are actually grammatical for some speakers, and used to be more so.

  43. JS said,

    October 24, 2013 @ 2:49 pm

    Surely this is a more generally ditransitive thing… questions on DO vs. IO take the same form with other verbs as well ("What did you give the piano?" A: "A kick"; "What did you give a kick?" A: "The piano"), but ambiguity is rare given the properties of the arguments (IO recipient vs DO thing given).

    It seems the problem emerges above with call because of an additional ambiguity between name and physical referent that obscures these properties – actually, tpr‘s (2b) “What do the French call La Tour Eiffel,” given the italics (and probably also prosody when spoken), is no longer ambiguous as La Tour Eiffel is marked as name, not thing named.

  44. J. W. Brewer said,

    October 24, 2013 @ 4:06 pm

    Is "I am named X" one of those pseudo-passives like "the door is closed," where there's an ambiguity between the state and the action which caused the state? There's certainly an active equivalent to "I was named X (by my parents)," i.e. "My parents named me X." Similarly, "the door was closed (by Sally)" corresponds to "Sally closed the door" but the more purely stative "the door is closed" doesn't quite correspond to anything active, even if it presupposes that someone or other at some unspecified prior point in time did something to cause the door to be closed.

    OTOH, "I am called X" or "I am known as X" have easy active-voice counterparts, even if the subject is vague/impersonal (e.g., "but everyone knew her as Nancy").

  45. hanmeng said,

    October 24, 2013 @ 4:21 pm

    It took me a long time to figure out that the menu did not read "aubergine".

    @julie lee,

    Some twenty years ago in a Beijing restaurant when we called tomatoes 蕃茄, the waiter rather snottily insisted on calling them 西紅柿 (Western red persimmons). I've always since assumed that's standard in Beijing, at least.

  46. tpr said,

    October 24, 2013 @ 5:07 pm

    Consider some variations on Alexander's examples:

    (4a) Mary considers John a moron.
    (4b) Mary considers John to be a moron.
    In both sentences, consider has a clausal complement. John isn't a direct object, but the subject of the small clause John a moron in (4a) and of the infinitival John to be a moron in (4b).

    Ditransitives are different. With ditransitives, the two noun phrases that follow the verb are arguments of it:

    (7a) Mary told John several charming stories.
    (7b) Mary told several charming stories to John.
    The paraphrase in (7b) is available for many but not all ditransitives (you can't do it with call). When it is available, you can advance either the direct or indirect object to subject position in the passive, just not in the manner of Alexander's (9):

    (8a) John was told several charming stories.
    (8b) Several charming stories were told to John.
    (9) *Several stories were told John by Mary.

  47. Cameron said,

    October 25, 2013 @ 10:51 am


    On the lack of mention of English use of "aubergine" in Hobson-Jobson: yes, apparently that usage wasn't widespread in the late 19th century. I don't think I've seen the word on any of the canonical lists, but I suspect in British usage in the early-to-mid 20th century there was a U vs. non-U distinction between usage of "eggplant" and "aubergine", with middle-class speakers adopting the French word in an attempt to sound more posh than working class speakers, and the upper classes not bothering, and sticking with the same word the working class used. I imagine aubergine would have stood alongside a word like "serviette" as a middle-class marker.

  48. Ted said,

    October 25, 2013 @ 3:43 pm

    On the cannibalism point, I have the same reaction every time I see "vegetarian chili" on a menu.

  49. Chris Henrich said,

    October 25, 2013 @ 7:44 pm

    @Alexander: I don't think your analysis of "A calls B C" gets at the strangeness of "P is what Q calls R". In "A calls B C", it is plain that "An American calls aubergines eggplants" cannot refer to the same state of affairs as *"An American calls eggplants aubergines". (The second statement is starred not for bad grammar but for being less truthful.)

    In these sentence patterns, the verb "calls" has two objects. "A calls B C" is unambiguous: B is the direct object and C is the indirect object. ("indirect" may not be the correct term, but C is a less direct object than B in some way.)

    In contrast, the clause "what Q calls R" is ambiguous. Either "what" or "R" can be construed as the direct object of "calls", parallel to "B" in the other pattern.

    @Ted: From one of the "Addams family" movies: "Are your Girl Scout Cookies made with real Girl Scouts?"

  50. David Y. said,

    October 25, 2013 @ 11:09 pm

    Anybody know where I can get my roasted aborigine with some fava beans and a nice Chianti?

  51. Eorrfu said,

    October 26, 2013 @ 11:20 pm

    Brinjal is one of my favorite etymologies. As described above it came into Sanskrit from Dravidian. Then borrowed into Persian to Arabic then Spanish and Portuguese. Then re-adopted from Portuguese in Hindi to coexist with its cognate.

    The biggest problem with eggplant as a food is that it is lousy. For the overweight it is a miracle food but most consumers don't use it to loose weight. It has a very good balance of nutrients but in pretty pitiful amounts especially when cooked. Generally the most nutritious varieties are extremely bitter which means that in India it is a giant waste of arable land.

  52. Ken Brown said,

    October 27, 2013 @ 3:45 pm

    "Giant waste of arable land" ? No- one is forcing farmers to grow it.

    Look up a few Turkish recipies for aubergine if you want to find out how delicious it can be.

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