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What is the etymology of "judías blancas" for kidney beans? Its second definition is Jewess. This is the sort of thing that would belong on jeopardy, I realize, but I'm curious.

  • Posted Jan 25, 2014
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Una buena pregunta. Judiás is the main point of your question (blancas is trivially attributed to color, I think, of navy beans as a type of kidney beans).

Trying to find the etymology online, I stumbled across this rather large discourse on the topic. You can read it completely if you have the time and patience, but I have cited the main parts and provided translations (although they may not be entirely accurate. I urge you to read the Spanish version if/when you can).


La Academia la trajó siempre sin etimología hasta la edición de 1956, en la que le atribuyó esta: "del ár. ŷudiyāˀ, alubia". Pero la palabra ŷudiyāˀ, que en el sistema de transcripción que usaban entonces y que todavía muchos arabistas españoles se resisten a abandonar equivale a جُدْيَاء ǧudyāˀ, es una palabra absolutamente inexistente en los diccionarios de la lengua árabe, tanto los árabe-árabe como los árabe-lenguas europeas.

The Academia always had the word without etymology till the 1956 edition, in which it was described this: "del ár. ŷudiyāˀ, alubia", from Arabic ŷudiyāˀ meaning alubia. But the word ŷudiyāˀ in the system of transcription used then and still used by some Spanish Arabists is equivalent to جُدْيَاء ǧudyāˀ, a nonexistent word in the Arabic dictionaries, both Arabic-Arabic and Arabic-European languages.

Corriente, en su Diccionario de arabismos del que tantas veces echamos mano, piensa que es la propia versión en femenino del etnónimo "judío" que haya podido especializarse en esta acepción a imagen de las muchas referencias geográficas de los vegetales en al-Andalus.

Corriente, in his Diccionario de Arabismos which we have often fallen back to, thinks that it is the same, feminine version of the etnonym (name for ethnicity) 'judío' that could have been specialized to the current meaning in the image of many geografic references in the vegetables of Al-Andalus.

Si en Oriente se llamaba baqla yahūdiyya literalmente "verdura judía", a las cerrajas, Sonchus oleraceus L., por la costumbre de comerlas como hierbas amargas (מָרוֹר mārōr) en la primera noche de la pascua judía; en al-Andalus este nombre de baqla yahūdiyya se le daba al gringuelé, Corchorus olitorius L., porque formaba parte de las costumbres culinarias de los oriundos del Levante del Mediterráneo.

If in the east it was called baqla yahūdiyya, literally 'green judía', the hooks, Sonchus oleraceus L. per the custom of eating them as bitter herbs (מָרוֹר mārōr) on the first night of the Passover, in Al-Andalus this name of baqla yahūdiyya was given to the gringuelé, Corchorus olitorius L., because it formed part of the traditional cuisine of the natives of East Mediterranean.

Había también una šawka yahūdiyya lit. "cardo judío", fitónimo del eringio o cardo corredor, Eryngium campestre L., cuya raíz dulce se comía. También al bedelio, Commiphora mukul (Hook.) Engl. [= Balsamodendron mukul Hook.], como se daba en Palestina, se le llamaba muql al-yahūd "bedelio de los judíos" (aunque otros preferían llamarlo muql ˁarabī "bedelio árabe"). Y a la amapola macho Papaver argemone L. se le llamaba ḫašḫāš yahūdī "adormidera judía".

There was also a šawka yahūdiyya lit. "cardo judío", fitonym (vegetable name) of eringo or 'cardo corredor' (some vegetable, I guess), Eryngium campestre L., whose sweet root was eaten. Also bedellium, an aromatic gum, Commiphora mukul (Hook.) Engl. Balsamodendron mukul Hook. as it was found in Palestine, it was called muql al-yahūd "bedelio of the Jews" (although some prefer to call it muql ˁarabī "bedelio árabe"). And the pale poppy (amapola macho) Papaver argemone L. It was called ḫašḫāš yahūdī "adormidera judía".

Pues podría haber sido un caso como estos, en los que se haya quedado "judía" porque se le llamase "hab(ichuel)a judía", o "alubia judía". En español hay más casos de fitónimos que indican procedencia geográfica o atribución a algún pueblo remoto como el arabismo 1sandía (del Sind) o el arabolatino [2]albérchigo (de Persia)... (otros ejemplos)

It could have been a case like this, in which 'judía' remained because it were called 'hab(ichuel)a judía' or 'alubia judía'. In Spanish, there are many such cases that indicate geographical precedence or attribution to some remote town like in the arabism 'sandía' (from Sind), or the arabolatino albérchigo (from Persia).... (other examples)

No encuentro en español la expresión de "habichuela judía" o "alubia judía", pero en catalán de Mallorca sí que la hay, y, además, para denominar a una de aquellas especies precolombinas de al-Andalus que el Alcover trae como segunda acepción de fesol:

I did not find 'habichuela judía' or 'alubia judía' in Spanish, but in Catalan of Majorca it exists and, in addition, for naming one of those precolombian species of Al-Andalus that el Alcover cites as a second meaning of fesol (frijol in Spanish).

The latest versions of Academia cite the etymological source of judía 'quizá de judío', or 'likely from 'judío''.

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