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Broccoli and calabrese

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Yes, this indeed a post about the green sprouting vegetable called broccoli. In fact, the English word ‘broccoli’ originates from the plural of the Italian ‘broccolo’, which–according to English Wikipedia–refers to the flowering top of a cabbage. I haven’t found this definition anywhere else so can’t confirm it. However, a ‘broccolo’ can also be used as a fun insult: e.g. “Che broccolo!” or “What a dumb/stupid person.”

In turn, ‘broccolo’ is the diminutive of ‘brocco’, which–according to Wiktionary–could mean a shoot or sprout. This makes sense since the broccoli that we eat is actually the flowering head of the plant. However, a ‘brocco’ can also be used to mean an old or infirm horse (‘nag’, according to Wiktionary) or a small nail (according to Italian Wikipedia). Clearly, a word that’s been around for a while.

After all this, the actual word for the vegetable broccoli in Italian is…broccoli. Note that it is always a plural noun, so “abbiamo mangiato dei broccoli.” (“We ate broccoli”). Saying “abbiamo mangiato un broccolo” doesn’t really make much sense.

There are in fact different varieties of broccoli, but the most common type that is sold in UK supermarkets (and is often known as just broccoli) is the Calabrese variant. This is named, of course, after the Calabria region in southern Italy. Another interesting one is Sicilian purple broccoli.

Clearly a lot of Italian connections here, and indeed the vegetable does originate there, having been bred from various leafy plants native to the northern Mediterranean. A final word to mention is ‘brassica’, which is the plant family which includes broccoli, as well as cabbages, cauliflowers, turnips and others. It sounds like it should be an Italian word as well but it’s simply a Latin word that means ‘cabbage’ or a similar vegetable.

Finally, yes, I do like broccoli, preferably boiled. 🙂

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