Origin: 1525–35; < Upper It articiocco, var. (by dissimilation) of arciciocco, arcicioffo < *arcarcioffo < OSp alcarchofa < dial. Ar al-ḫaršuf the artichoke

Those who have been warned to watch out for the sharp-tipped bracts toward the innermost part of an artichoke may have wondered whether the name of this vegetable has anything to do with choking. Originally it did not. Our word goes back to an Arabic word for the same plant, al-ḫaršuf. Along with many other Arabic words, it passed into Spanish during the Middle Ages, when Muslims ruled much of Spain. The Old Spanish word alcarchofa was variously modified as it passed through Italian, a northern dialect form being articiocco, the source of the English word. It was further modified in English, where a potpourri of spellings and explanations are found since its appearance early in the 16th century. For example, people who did not know the long history of the word explained it by the notion that the flower had a "choke", that is, something that chokes, in its "heart." The American Heritage® Dictionary of the English Language, Fourth Edition. Houghton Mifflin Company, 2004.
Audrey in the French comments mentions the French expression avoir un cœur d’artichaut (to have an artichoke heart), which describes someone who falls in love with everything in sight. Am I right in thinking that a similarly colourful English equivalent doesn’t exist?

By | 2016-10-18T15:49:45+00:00 July 23rd, 2007|Words|6 Comments

About the Author:

I am Céline Graciet, a freelance English to French translator. Since 2003 I’ve been writing on all sorts of areas linked to translation and the life of a translator.


  1. Karen August 2, 2007 at 7:49 pm

    I believe that you are right. No phrase or idiom comes to mind. The only thing that I can think of is: There is a slang expression “I am DYING” when somebody sees or eats something that is truly awesome. It can be repeated while the speaker is in the same location. For instance, a person is in a new restaurant. While entering, he or she looks at the interior design and says “I am DYING” over the drapes, the carpet, etc. Then while eating, the person could say: “This is awesome. I am DYING over this sauce.”

  2. Oleg Kuzin August 3, 2007 at 12:59 am

    My electronic Lexibase 2002 Collins Robert) dictionary gives for “Il a un coeur d’artichaut” : He falls in love with every girl he meets. Another French site explains that at the end of the 19th century the following explanation prevailed: “coeur d’artichaut, une feuille pour tout le monde”. Rather well said, I would say.

  3. Xavier Kreiss August 3, 2007 at 11:43 pm

    Oleg: so that’s where Brassens found “cœur d’artichaut, tu donnes une feuille à tout l’monde” ! Once more, he was showing how wodely-read he was. Or was it coincidence?
    I can’t resist quoting from another song (sung by Mike McGear, the brother of Sir Paul McCartney, who wrote the lyrics:
    “I dearly loved her arty jokes / Their continental flavour makes me choke”

  4. Victor Dewsbery August 4, 2007 at 9:23 am

    How close does it come to: “He/she chases anything that wears trousers/a skirt”?
    (Can’t assess the impact of the French phrase, because I only have a rudimentary knowledge of the language).

  5. Xavier Kreiss August 5, 2007 at 2:40 pm

    Victor: it’s not the same. Someone who “chases anything that wears trousers/a skirt” would probably be a Don Juan, a coureur etc.
    A “cœur d’artichaut” (if I’m wrong, someone correct me, please) is someone who falls in love -or at least develops “crushes”- easily. There is an emotional ingredient.

  6. céline August 5, 2007 at 8:47 pm

    Xavier is right!
    *Céline, who is galivanting in France but won’t be neglecting this blog for much longer.*

Comments are closed.