cacao

A level, round kind of little word. Two couples and a ring – perhaps each c is like a mouth and each a like a hand feeding it something (and what would that be?). And after two bites, nothing – or a closing dot, or a mouth open in satisfaction or calling for more, or… The experience of saying this word certainly comes with two sounds not so unlike that of a hard bar of chocolate breaking as it’s bitten (twice). At the end the mouth is indeed in a ring; one version of the pronunciation bends the tongue forward to make it a stuttered KO (is it such a knockout?), while the other is more like the name of the animal that says “m-moo.” And that m-moo c-cow m-makes m-milk, which some people for some reason blend with their chocolate or their hot cocoa. Ah, yes, cocoa, the word that this word may seem like a mistaken version of. It’s the other way around, of course: cacao is the Spanish version of cacauatl (or cacahuatl), “caca tree” (a tree an Italian might refuse to stand under, but of course caca means something different and rather better in this case). The cacao seed grows on the cacao tree, and by the time it has been crushed and thus set on its journey to the modern consumer its name, too, has undergone the mutation to cocoa, which really is just a further mixing up of the original word (cacoa and cocao were also seen at one time, but the repetition is catchier). The tl ending of cacauatl should tell you that this is a word from Nahuatl, the language of the Aztecs, which also gave us axolotl, atlatl, and an assortment of others ending thus, as well as chocolatl, which has been brought down, mutatis mutandis, to become the name of the processed product made from the cacauatl – but this is not really a return to origins at the end of processing, as chocolatl was half cacao and half pochotl. Still, whatever it is, you may have a little but you’ll want a lotl.

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