Word of the Day / Limon: The Citrus Fruit Formerly Known as 'Nimbo'

The word for lemon comes from India, was later corrupted by the Persians and then adopted by Arab traders.

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The words limon and lemon both come from India, where the Sanskrit word for lemon was nimbo.
The words limon and lemon both come from India, where the Sanskrit word for lemon was nimbo.Credit: Dreamstime
Elon Gilad
Elon Gilad

The Hebrew word for lemon is limon (li-MON). Both the English and Hebrew words for the tart citrus fruit clearly come from the same source, but what is it?

Well, before we get into that, let’s discuss when lemons first made an appearance in Palestine. This was apparently during the time of the Talmud. The Talmud mentions the etrog kushi (a citron from the African kingdom of Kush), saying it is a species that is not to be used in place of the etrog (the citron) during the holiday of Sukkot, when we recite blessings with the four species.

The words limon and lemon both originally come from India, where the Sanskrit word for lemon was nimbo. Nimbo was corrupted into limon by the Persians and that word was adopted by Arab traders who introduced the fruit to the Europeans in the Middle Ages.

By the late Middle Ages the word limon appears in most European languages as well as in Hebrew, where it first appears at the end of the 15th century -- in the form limoni -- in the writings of Meshulam da Volterra.

For ages, the word limon meant both both lemon and lime, but sophisticated foodies in the late 20th century wanted to make a distinction, so the word lime was adopted from English, and limon was reserved for lemons.

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