So you can imagine my excitement when, at work a few weeks back, the lunchtime conversation turned to the words for bread and cheese in every language. Between the 5 of us, we were able to come up with English (doy), French, Spanish, Italian, German, Swedish, Japanese, Korean, Mandarin, Tagalog, Persian, Hebrew, Arabic, Hindi. Interrogating some coworkers (is it weird to randomly go up to someone and ask them how they say cheese in their native language? probably. oh well), we added Turkish, Armenian, Flemish, and Dutch to the list. That's 18 languages!
But this was just the beginning of the fun. We came back to our desks, and my friend Brian made a stop at mine. Apparently 18 languages was not enough for him. He started rattling off many others (basically all the European languages), and I diligently scoured google for the cheese word in each one. Meanwhile, Brian was drawing a map, freehand, of Europe -- a glorious cheesemap! It was really impressive -- kind of a genius document. There might truly be world peace if we could just put away our differences, and focus on our amazing common ground -- cheese (sorry lactards).
Some things we learned:
- Much of Mediterranean Europe's cheese word is in the 'queso' vein (like 'cheese' itself). Makes sense, the Latin for cheese is 'caseus'. BUT -- what happened to Italy and France ('formaggio' and 'fromage', respectively)? Turns out, this has to do with 'shape, form, mold' -- perhaps because these countries were actually making cheeses in a mold, as opposed to just curds in a bag?
- Hebrew is 'gvina', Arabic is 'gibn'. Stands to reason they would be related. (Also, come on people! You guys have the same word for cheese -- can't we all just get along?) BUT -- the Gaelic word is 'gobin'. Wha?? Why would they be related?
Also: Here's a comprehensive list of cheeses the world over, and a fun etymology page.