Quince

I was inspired to research and write this by an article in The Miller’s Tale which I particularly enjoyed.

 

The quince may not be as well-known or as common in our society as the apple, but perhaps it is unfairly overlooked, as the Miller’s Tale article tells us in more detail.

 

But here our focus is on the word itself rather than the fruit. Where does this word come from?

 

It comes into English in the early 14th century. At that time there were many forms, such as coin, quoine, quin, coince, quoyn and even coven. The form quince was one version of the plural, but by no means the only one; coines, cones, and coinces could also be seen. In an age before the standardisation of spelling, these variations sometimes reflect the local dialect and pronunciation, and sometimes simply reflect the writer’s own interpretation of how the letters should be used.

 

We can find various references to the quince in Middle English: here is one from The Romaunt of the Rose, translated into English by Chaucer. It dates to around 1425.

 

Many homly trees ther were,

That peches, coynes, and apples beere.

 

 

The source for the Middle English word was Old French, in which the word was cooin. (Compare this with Modern French coing).

 

The word in Old French came from Vulgar Latin, from the term codoneum, a slightly altered version of the earlier Latin term cotoneum malum, which meant “quince apple” or “quince fruit”. The word for ‘apple’ was often extended in use to refer to other kinds of fruit.

 

Cotoneum malum most likely derived from cydonium malum, which in turn came from Greek: kydonia malon (κυδώνιον μάλον) or kydonion melon/ milon (κυδώνιον μήλον). This meant ‘apple of Kydonia’. You may very well be wondering what Kydonia is or was: the answer is simple. It was a city in ancient Crete, named for its mythical founder Kydon (Κύδων). It was located in what is modern Chania (Χανιά), and it was there that a variety of quince was grown that mainland Greeks regarded as superior: hence the adoption of the name.

9 thoughts on “Quince

  1. Pingback: O Mosey Quince – a history with a few recipes | The Millers Tale

  2. Thanks. Very interesting!

    Duden, THE German dictionary has quidonea as example of Common Romance or Vulgar Latin, which then became qitina in Old High German which changed to quiten in Middle High German. Quitte is the modern German word. So the Common Romance version explains where the q comes from.

    • Yes, the ‘quidonea’ form is extremely close to ‘kydonia’. Vulgar Latin was not one united standard language – there were variations in different areas, of course. The Vulgar Latin that influenced the French may not have been from the same source as the Latin speakers influencing early Germanic speakers, and naturally spelling, as I have stated, could frequently be a matter of personal preference. Sometimes, I have even seen the same writer spell the same word differently.

      • I know that there was no standardized way to spell, but I had been wondering about the q as opposed to the c version.
        Did some more digging in OHG and MHG dictionaries and there are wonderful variants with k instead of c.

        OHG: kottana, kutani, kozzana, kutina and for the tree kwitinboum, which seems very close to our modern version (except for the spelling).

        MHG: quiten and küten, Kutte and this from a book: “von epfeln und von küten”

        It seems like the t was established early in German, left over from the Latin versions.

  3. The genus of small trees and shrubs in the rose family (Rosaceae) with pinkish flowers and red berries, the “Cotoneaster” derives its name from “quince” when you examine its etymology:
    Botanical Latin: cotonea (“quince”) + -aster (nounal suffix expressing resemblance) making cotoneaster “quince-resembling”.
    Britain’s only native species of Cotoneaster can be found in only one location on the Great Orme peninsula in north Wales which is an endangered species and its Welsh name creigafal y Gogarth (Great Orme rock apple) at least represents a malic link reminiscent of ‘apple of Kydonia’.

    • That was very interesting, thanks. I don’t mind admitting that I was unfamiliar with this plant. One wonders, however, how pinkish flowers and red berries can be said to be ‘quince resembling’. Perhaps it’s just my local variety, but our quince tree does not have pink flowers.

      • I am familiar with the sight of some cotoneasters, particularly the shrubby species they use for a lot of ornamental planting in parks and municipal grounds but I can’t see the quince resemblance myself? Being the new Latin botanical nomenclature designated by Linnaeus I’m sure there must be a valid reason and some scientific thought behind linking cotoneaters with quinces? Perhaps it’s something to do with the -aster suffix and its inherent pejorative sense making the meaning behind cotoneasters as being an ‘inferior or poor man’s quince’ or maybe it’s related to its taste? Of course I have no idea what cotoneaster berries taste like or even if they are edible?

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