A kiwi can be a fruit, a name for a New Zealander, and a type of bird. But how are the three connected? The oldest of the words is the one meaning "bird". It comes from the Maori language, where it was adopted through onomatopoeia- it seemed imitative of the ratite's call. Next came the people name. The appellation was first coined in 1918, because the country was so heavily associated with those unique birds, and it's stuck ever since. However, through all this time, what we know today as the kiwifruit or just kiwi went under a completely different name: the Chinese gooseberry, because the plant originally came from China and resembled other gooseberries. This would not do for New Zealand exporters, who wanted to associate the delicacy with their own country. So they did the natural thing and, in the mid-twentieth century, named it after themselves and their famous bird! Kiwi meaning "fruit" was in widespread use by its official commercial adoption in 1974. To think all those words stemmed from the cry of a bird! Etymology is amazing.
Adam Aleksic is a 221-month-old, 2800-ounce high school senior with disturbing interests in etymology, vexillology, geography, board games, limericks, and law. Adam will be studying linguistics at Harvard University in the fall.
The Etymology Nerd