Delicious English Words (Chocolate, Guacamole) with Aztec Roots

Chocolate, guacamole, avocado, and more yummy words we get from Aztec languages. Chocolate, for instance, comes from the Nahuatl word “xocolatl.”

Bonnie Mills, Writing for
3-minute read
Episode #599

Other Food Words 

Various other food-related words come from Nahuatl. One is “avocado,” which originates from the Nahuatl word “āhuacatl.” The English word “avocado” was first used in English around 1690. 

Another food word that comes from Nahuatl is “tomato,” which comes from the similar-sounding Nahuatl word “tomatl.” This first came into English in about 1595. 

Chili” also comes from Nahuatl. The Nahuatl word “chīlli,” as you might guess, means “chili pepper.” 

All of these words might be making you think of guacamole, a word that also comes from Nahuatl. In that language, it is something like “āhuacamōlli.” The beginning part of this word is the Nahuatl word for “avocado,” as we have seen. The second part, “mōlli,” means “sauce.” For those of you who are unfamiliar with the yummy concoction called guacamole, it is a Mexican dip made of avocado, tomato, onions, and spices, and maybe lemon or lime. Another famous Mexican dish is mole, which contains a flavorful sauce made of various ingredients, including chocolate, chilis, and spices. 


Now let’s switch gears from food to animals. Can you think of some creatures that might have roamed around the Aztec empire? A coyote might have. In Nahuatl, this animal was called a “coyōtl.” English speakers began using this word in about 1825. Another animal word with a Nahuatl origin is the now-endangered ocelot. It was known as the “ōcēlōtl,” which translates as “jaguar.” An ocelot is not the same as a jaguar, though they might look similar. The scientific name of an ocelot is Leopardus pardalis, whereas that of a jaguar is Panthera onca

Before we finish and perhaps go eat some chocolate or guacamole, I want to mention one other animal word that comes from the Nahuatl language. You might have heard of the mythic Aztec serpent god Quetzalcoatl. In Nahuatl, “cōātl” means “snake.” Although the quetzalcoatl is not a real animal, a quetzal is. This brightly colored bird is the national bird of Guatemala. 


We hope you enjoyed going back a few centuries to see how an Aztec language contributed some words that we regularly use in English.

That segment was written by Bonnie Mills, author of The Curious Case of the Misplaced Modifier, who blog at sentencesleuth.blogspot.com.

Image courtesy of Shutterstock.


About the Author

Bonnie Mills, Writing for Grammar Girl

Bonnie Mills has been a copyeditor since 1996.