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Word of the Day: PERZIK, peach

Last week I was teaching the first lesson of the Beginners Course and those who once witnessed it, know that fruit plays an important part. I usually start with a banana (Dit is een banaan) and then move on to the APPEL (apple), PEER (pear), SINAASAPPEL (orange) etcetera. Fruit (Dutch: fruit -> het-woord) is a wonderful linguistic instrument in Dutch lessons, because you can easily link fruit and vegetables to colours. ‘De tomaat is rood’ (the tomato is red) ‘en de banaan is geel’ (the banana is yellow).


To my great surprise I discovered a PERZIK (peach) in my fake fruit basket. ‘Wat is dit?’ I asked an Iranian lady and she answered without hesitation: ‘Dat is een perzik. Lekker.’ (That is a peach. Nice.) Apparently she had learned the name of the fruit in the supermarket. She also knew the names of the other wholesome delicacies. Great!

Suddenly the light of insight went on inside my head and I thought: ‘PERZIK -> Perzië?’ Could it be that the peachy fruit was named after Persia, as the nation was called before it became the Islamic Republic of Iran in 1980? Surely not, I thought. It is too obvious.

After the lesson I asked the Iranians if they knew of any relations between the fruit and their country of origin. But they did not. And I started to doubt. Dutch PERZIK may be only one letter removed from PERZIË but English ‘peach’ and French ‘pêche’ do not resemble Persia at all.

So I cycled home through the lush meadows where the sheep and their lambs were frolicking and enjoying spring. I never think about fruit, but this time all my thoughts went spinning around the various edible parts of flowering plants which are nature’s way of disseminating seeds. After a while I concluded that fruits are sexy things, indeed. Without fruits plants cannot multiply and procreate.

Fruit is not only sexy in the eyes of plants, it is also sexy to us, humans. And what is the sexiest of all fruits? I thought riding my bike. Is it the banana (BANAAN) because it resembles a phallus? Or the fig (VIJG) because it reminds some people of the female organ. In the poetic words of D. H. Lawrence:

‘The proper way to eat a fig, in society, / is to split it in four, holding it by the stump / and open it, so that it is a glittering, rosy, moist, honied, heavy-petalled four-petalled flower…. // But the vulgar way / is just to put your mouth to the crack, and take out the flesh in one bite. … // Every fruit has its secret // The fig is a very secretive fruit…. .’ (From: ‘Figs’, 1923)

The fig may be a secretive fruit, but I declare herewith that the most erotic of all fruits is the peach, DE PERZIK. Just look at its voluptuous roundings, its smooth soft skin, its enticing smell, its mellow colours, its sweet honeylike taste. The sight of a mere peach is enough to make one blush. It takes courage to put your teeth in a ripe peach and take a bit.

The poet T.S. Eliot knew this and wrote these lines about one shy Alfred J. Prufrock who feels extremely embarrassed in the midst of female company:

‘I grow old … I grow old …I shall wear the bottoms of my trousers rolled

Shall I part my hair behind? Do I dare to eat a peach?

I shall wear white flannel trousers, and walk upon the beach.

I have heard the mermaids singing, each to each.

I do not think that they will sing to me.’

(The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock, 1920)

The peach is the mermaid of fruits. With its magical songs the peach sings to us: Take me, caress me, smell me, eat me, bite me.

James Joyce understood the erotic quality of the fruit too when he was writing his novel ‘Ulysses’ (1922). He wrote the following sexy sketch:

‘The blond girl in Thornton’s bedded the wicker basket with rustling fibre. Blazes Boylan handed her the bottle swathed in pink tissue paper and a small jar.

–Put these in first, will you? he said.

–Yes, sir, the blond girl said. And the fruit on top.

–That’ll do, game ball, Blazes Boylan said.

She bestowed fat pears neatly, head by tail, and among them ripe shamefaced peaches.’

When I arrived at the institute, I immediately looked up the word ‘peach’ and saw that my moment of insight had been true. The word PERZIK, which is a medieval word (first recorded in 1240 according to Nicoline van der Sijs in het chronological dictionary), comes from the name ‘Perzië’. The English and French versions also come from Persia.

So is that the country where the fruit comes from? No, originally, the peach is a Chinese fruit. But apparently the Europeans did not know this fact in the Middle Ages.