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Origin of ALBACORE (tunafish)
Posted: 26 November 2010 11:31 PM   [ Ignore ]
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ALBACORE is a species of tuna fish well-known to canned tuna consumers in the USA but not in the UK. Non-dogmatic, substantive information about the etymology of the word is terribly scarce on the Internet. Here’s the dogma that’s in the online English dictionaries:

American Heritage @ YourDictionary.com: Portuguese albacor, from Arabic al-bakūra : al-, the + bakūra, albacore; see bkr in Semitic roots.
Merriam-Webster @ M-W.com: Portuguese albacor, from Arabic al-bakūra the albacore. First Known Use in English: 1579
Random House @ Dictionary.com: 1570–80; < Pg albacora ≪ North African Ar al-bakūrah the tuna
Webster’s New World @ YourDictionary.com: Port albacora < Ar al, the + bakāra, pl. of buko, young camel
Collins English @ Dictionary.com: Century16: from Portuguese albacor, from Arabic al-bakrah, from al the + bakr young camel
Concise OED @ OxfordDictionaries.com: late 16th century: from Portuguese albacora, from Arabic al-bakūra, perhaps from al ‘the’ + bakūr ‘premature, precocious’
Chambers Dict @ ChambersHarrap.co.uk: [No definition for albacore]

Richardson’s Arabic-English dictionary year 1852 defines ‘’bākūra’’ as “first-fruits, early fruits, the first of any thing” and similarly ‘’bākūr’’ as “anything which soon reaches maturity”. That Arabic word is extensively and anciently documented in that sense, and it is not documented at all in the sense of tunafish to the best of my knowledge. Modern Spanish has two words spelled “albacora”—one a type of fig fruit, the other a type of tunafish. The official dictionary of the Spanish language, the DRAE, rejects the dogma in the English dictionaries. The DRAE says the fig word is from Arabic ‘’al-bākūrah’’ meaning “early ripening fruit”, and the tuna word is “perhaps from the [Spanish] fig word” ("albacora2 quizá de albacora1").

Here’s how Reinhart Dozy handles the issue in his 1869 book Glossaire des mots espagnols et portugais dérivés de l’arabe.

[The Spanish] Albacora, [also] bacora, [is] a large early-ripening dark fig. The Arabic ‘’al-bākūr’’ signifies “early, precocious” and in the Maghreb “a species of early ripening fig”. M. Cherbonneau, in his collection of Maghrebi Arabic dialect dated 1849, reports the additional meaning “fresh fig”....

In Spanish and Portuguese ‘’albacora’’ is also the name of a fish resembling the bonito (Nunez) or the tuna (Moraes, Vieyra; the latter author also reports the forms ‘’albacor’’ and ‘’albecora’’). I haven’t found this word in Arabic dictionaries, which are very deficient in the names of fishes.

A couple of the English dictionaries are saying the Arabic progenitor was ‘’bakāra’’ = “young camel”. And similarly Etymonline.com says that albacore is “1570s English, “large variety of tuna,” from Port. albacora, from Arabic al bakara pl. of buko “young camel, heifer;” the fish so called for its size.” A first problem with that is the albacore species of tuna is not notably large as tuna go. Relying on Wikipedia, the Atlantic bluefin tuna, which are native in the Mediterranean Sea, are capable of reaching over 450 kilograms, whereas the albacore tuna only reach weights of around 45 kg. Among other tuna species, some are bigger than albacore, and some are smaller. The Albacore is considerably bigger than the Atlantic bonito, which only comes in at around 6 kg. As you read above, Dozy reports that the Spanish ‘’albacora’’ could refer to the bonito, which implies that bigness wasn’t a sense carried in the Spanish word. In modern Portuguese the word ‘’albacora’’ most often means the yellowfin tuna. (In Portuguese the albacore is called the ‘’atum branco’’ = “white tuna"). The Latinate-scientific name for the yellowfin is ‘’Thunnus albacares’’ and that right there is the albacore word again. Wikipedia says the yellowfin tuna often reaches weights of 130 kg. The yellowfins are common in the deepwater Atlantic but very rarely enter the Mediterranean and so were very rarely seen in medieval times. The modern Spanish ‘’albacora’’ has the same meaning as the English, “white meat tuna”. Given this diversity in meanings for the word “albacora”, plus the fact, if I’m not mistaken, that the word is simply not on record in Arabic with a meaning of any kind of fish whatsoever, it is dreadful that two of the English dictionaries quoted above say with no ifs ands or buts that there was an Arabic word ‘’al-bakūra’’ that specifically meant the albacore tuna species.

Returning to the Arabic ‘’al-bakāra’’ = “the young camel” proposition (not the same as the ‘’al-bakūra’’ proposition), here’s how Richardson’s 1852 Arabic-English dictionary translates ‘’bakāra’’: “Being a virgin. Virginity. Young (camels).” Also ‘’bikār’’ = “Young (she-camels).” Also there’s the closely related ‘’bakr’’ / ‘’bikr’’ which Richardson’s translates as: “A young camel. A maid, virgin, girl. A camel which has brought forth her first colt. A woman delivered of her first and only child. A heifer which has not yet borne a calf. The first, first-born (male or female, man or beast). A vine bearing for the first time.” Thus, ‘’bakāra’’ = “young camel” has got associations attached that you can’t naturally transfer to a tunafish. Today’s Arabic-English dictionaries at babylon.com and translate.google.com have only one defintion for ‘’bakāra’’ and that is “maidenhood”.

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Posted: 26 November 2010 11:37 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 1 ]
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One Latin and Spanish word for white is “alba”. E.g. “albumin” is scientific English and Spanish for the white of an egg. E.g. English albino = “no melanin” (and the English is borrowed from the Portuguese albino). E.g. albatross (a more complicated example). You must allow that that’s a possible source for the ‘’alba’’ in Albacore unless and until you can find a suitably phonetic word in Arabic writings with the meaning of tuna.

On account of the scantiness of the info I could find by surfing the Net, I don’t know how early albacora is attested in Spanish or Portuguese, but if it’s after 1400 that’s another reason to be dubious about an Arabic origin story. No do I know what precisely it’s earliest meaning was, nor whether it was white meat tuna.

In conclusion, the origin of Albacore looks to be obscure. It may be from Arabic but if so we don’t know what Arabic word. The reports in the English dictionaries appear to be all bogus—completely fictitious because they’ve no Arabic documentation to support them.

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Posted: 27 November 2010 12:16 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 2 ]
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Reflection on:

dogma - 1. That which is held as an opinion; a belief, principle, tenet; esp. a tenet or doctrine authoritatively laid down by a particular church, sect, or school of thought; sometimes, depreciatingly, an imperious or arrogant declaration of opinion. (OED)

bogus - Counterfeit, spurious, fictitious, sham: ‘originally applied to counterfeit coin’ (Webster).  (OED) (I’m sure we’ve had a thread on this).

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Posted: 27 November 2010 01:16 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 3 ]
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ᴚǝǝƶɐʍɐɈ - 26 November 2010 11:37 PM

On account of the scantiness of the info I could find by surfing the Net, I don’t know how early albacora is attested in Spanish or Portuguese, but if it’s after 1400 that’s another reason to be dubious about an Arabic origin story. No do I know what precisely it’s earliest meaning was, nor whether it was white meat tuna.

In conclusion, the origin of Albacore looks to be obscure. It may be from Arabic but if so we don’t know what Arabic word. The reports in the English dictionaries appear to be all bogus—completely fictitious because they’ve no Arabic documentation to support them.

First attestation of Spanish albacora in the fish sense seems to be 1535, in Portuguese also only from 16th century.  There is evidence that in some regions the word was initially used only for the young of the fish, which can be taken as supporting the al ‘the’ + bakūr ‘premature, precocious’ thesis.

A number of Portuguese dictionaries (including the most substantial etymological one, by José Pedro Machado) indicate that that albacora in the fish sense comes from Late Latin ALBICOLOR ("the color white"), which is not entirely implausible given that Latin COLOR became Portuguese cor.

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Posted: 27 November 2010 01:59 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 4 ]
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My thanks for the info, madeira.

If ‘’albacora’’ = “white meat tuna” is attested in Pt/Sp any time during the 16th, it’d make albi-cor a pretty strong hypothesis.

IMHO, any Spanish/Port ‘’al-” word is only “perhaps” Arabic unless it’s documented in Arabic with very nearly the same meaning and roughly the same phonetics. I can’t resist making one other comment, although it’s about a different word. When I was trying recently to knock the idea that old Spanish ‘’alcorque’’ came from Arabic, I looked for other Spanish words with an ‘’al-’’ stuck in front that conventional wisdom already admitted were not from Arabic. And one I found was ‘’az-zufre’’ = ‘’azufre’’ = “sulfur”. Arabic used a different word, and no ‘’zufre’’-like word is attested in Arabic. Reinhart Dozy excluded azufre from his list of Spanish words derived from Arabic. The DRAE says azufre is directly from Latin ‘’sulphur’’. The ‘a’ in azufre is explained as what they call a ‘’prosthetic or prosthesis”. Latin words beginning with ‘s’ got an ‘e’ stuck in front in Old Spanish, such as Latin ‘’status’’ mutating to Spanish ‘’estado’’. They assign azufre to the same class. Thus azufre shouldn’t be on anyone’s list of Spanish words of Arabic etymology.

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Posted: 27 November 2010 02:29 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 5 ]
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ᴚǝǝƶɐʍɐɈ - 27 November 2010 01:59 AM

The ‘a’ in azufre is explained as what they call a ‘’prosthetic or prosthesis”. Latin words beginning with ‘s’ got an ‘e’ stuck in front in Old Spanish, such as Latin ‘’status’’ mutating to Spanish ‘’estado’’. They assign azufre to the same class. Thus azufre shouldn’t be on anyone’s list of Spanish words of Arabic etymology.

As you assert, it is indeed generally accepted that azufre probably did not transit through Arabic.  However, the initial “a” could not have been a prosthesis, as this occurred only with words beginning with so-called impure s—“s” followed by another consonant, as in your example of STATUS -> estado.  The first attested form is in fact sufre (no “a") in the 13th century; the form with “a” is not attested until the 16th century.

The likely explanation for the initial “a”, according to Corominas, is that it is “a case of false analysis of the very common term piedra sufre ("sulfur rock"), aided by the influence of similar words, such as azúcar ("sugar")."

[Another example of a Spanish word taking a “false” a by analogy is avispa ("wasp) from abeja ("bee"), cf. Port./Ital. vespa.]

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Posted: 27 November 2010 02:42 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 6 ]
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I stand corrected and appreciate the correction. Thank you.

I know from direct personal experience that small, young river trout have white meat, and the meat turns pinkish when the trout get bigger. If that were also true of tuna, it would be relevant.

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Posted: 27 November 2010 05:00 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 7 ]
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Non-dogmatic, substantive information about the etymology of the word is terribly scarce on the Internet. Here’s the dogma that’s in the online English dictionaries:

[...]

In conclusion, the origin of Albacore looks to be obscure. It may be from Arabic but if so we don’t know what Arabic word. The reports in the English dictionaries appear to be all bogus—completely fictitious because they’ve no Arabic documentation to support them.

In summary: I searched the net and found no evidence. So the dictionaries must be wrong.

I’m on the verge of invoking the anti-trolling ordinance here. ᴚǝǝƶɐʍɐɈ continues to post misleading information and is utterly uninterested in actually listening to what others have to say unless they agree with him. This is a difficult decision because his posts are not without some merit. But frankly I’m sick of trying to counter the bad information he is putting forth.

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Posted: 27 November 2010 07:24 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 8 ]
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Thank you, Dave.  I entirely agree.  (I have had to do something similar on my own site.  It’s not fun, but sometimes hard decisions are necessary.)

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Posted: 27 November 2010 09:31 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 9 ]
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I find these threads interesting and instructive. Interesting material from fawazeer and Madeira and others. A bit of collegial controversy is just fine, IMHO.

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Posted: 27 November 2010 10:18 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 10 ]
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I agree with Dave. The Gang Show has run its course.

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Posted: 27 November 2010 10:29 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 11 ]
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A bit of collegial controversy is just fine, IMHO.

If it were collegial, that would be fine. But it’s not. Collegiality denotes that there will be an honest give and take of facts and opinion. Fawazeer has demonstrated no interest in collegiality. He is right and nothing anyone says will shift his conclusions.

The problem is that much of the material is interesting. But the arguments around the material are not.

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Posted: 27 November 2010 12:23 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 12 ]
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What D Wilson said.

Admittedly, the tone of reezawaL’s postings is likely to get a lot of people’s backs up. I think his style is unnecessarily aggressive - more suited to the sort of learned conference where a lot of pundits compete as to who has the heftiest ego (one of the nice things about this forum is that nobody’s jockeying for no. 1 position, or trying to further a career by belittling others). But I find his posts, and the threads they generate, full of interest. He has made a persuasive case, on the whole, for taking the etymology of many on-line dictionaries with a grain of salt, to say the least. So he goes overboard with it. Lots of people with hobby-horses do that. So? And I don’t agree, Dave, when you say that reezawaL’s not interested in, and doesn’t listen to, what others have to say - that’s not my take. The tone of his most recent posts is quite different from that of the earliest, though it’s still much too unnecessarily antagonistic, in my opinion, and I wish he’d quieten down a decibel or two. I see absolutely no sign of ad hominem aggression in any of his posts - and I think the rant will die down in time.

I should be very sorry to see reezawaL blacklisted for trolling.

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Posted: 27 November 2010 01:08 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 13 ]
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I disagree with lionello and D. Wilson.  Fawazeer has raised points which need to be addressed, not by us amateurs, but by the editors of the dictionaries he criticises.  This is not the place for him as he has come with this specific negative agenda.  The interest factor has nothing to do with the real issue of negativity.  It’s Dave’s call what he wants on his site.

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Posted: 27 November 2010 03:04 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 14 ]
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He hasn’t engaged in any ad hominem attacks on anyone, but his arguments are not that convincing. Yes he does raise some legitimate questions; I welcome the questions. But questioning how dictionaries came up with their conclusions is not the problem. The problem is that his conclusions are not based on solid research.

I and others have repeatedly told him that his methods are lacking. It is not enough to skim the surface of the available research (that which is available for free on the internet) and some of his leaps in logic are grounded in fallacy. That he makes mistakes is not distressing, either. We all do that. What is distressing is that he refuses to acknowledge his mistakes when they are pointed out and continues to make the same errors again and again. He is unwilling to listen or to learn. It’s a shame, because he’s clearly a smart guy and could contribute a lot if he would realize that he is a novice and has a lot to learn.

Perhaps the most basic lesson that he hasn’t learned is that the etymologies given in desktop dictionaries (the kind that are available for free on the net) are not detailed and rigorously defended academic arguments. They are extraordinarily brief summaries of those detailed and rigorously defended arguments. It’s as if he were challenging a journal article because the abstract did not sufficiently explain how the conclusion was reached. Unless one delves into the files at the dictionaries and into the academic journals, you cannot understand how they came up with their conclusions. And in some cases, you have to go into the primary documents to tease out the facts about a word’s origins. The other factor that he repeatedly ignores is that these dictionaries represent different states of knowledge about the etymology of words—especially the ones available for free, which are generally not the latest and greatest. Some are based on exceedingly old and outdated research, others are new. The dictionaries that are “wrong,” may not be “wrong” so much as “old.”

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Posted: 27 November 2010 04:15 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 15 ]
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He has made a persuasive case, on the whole, for taking the etymology of many on-line dictionaries with a grain of salt, to say the least.

Of course it seems persuasive when you only listen to his side of it!  Surely you can imagine reading a full (and perhaps devastating) response from an actual etymologist from one of the sources he so cavalierly dismisses, and finding it even more persuasive.  Alas, such people have better things to do with their time.

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