Why avocados are called “alligator pears” and “fertility fruit”?

As you munch on guacamole and chips, chew on the etymology of the humble avocado. Its many names are as wacky as the fruit is yummy.

Guacamole is in the news because a study links the beloved dip to many cases of food poisoning. The reason? Raw ingredients that may not be washed properly or adequately refrigerated. Just be cautious.

This news doesn’t dampen our enthusiasm; rather it creates a reason to discuss the provocative nomenclature of the bumpy-shelled fruit. A biologist calls it persea americana, but avocado derives from the Nahuatl word ahuacatl, which also refers to a certain part of the male anatomy that the fruit somewhat resembles. In English, the word has almost the same pronunciation as the Spanish abogado, “lawyer.” In Mexico it is called the aguacate.

Use your imagination to understand why the Aztecs called it the fertility fruit. Legend has it that an early English description of “avocado” called it the “avogado pear,” leading to the misunderstanding of “alligator pear.”  The fact that the shell of the fruit looks vaguely crocodilian doesn’t hurt.

In South America, some call it la manzana del invierno, “the apple of the winter.”  But if you happen to be in North America, mash one up with some herbs and lime, perhaps you would call it ahuacamolli, ahuaca “avocado” and molli “sauce.” Hence, guacamole.