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Clement clementines

Here’s a question that popped into my mind while swimming: what’s the connection between the word ‘clement’ and the fruit ‘clementine’? It seemed especially puzzling given that ‘clement’ is an adjective, and we often add suffixes like ‘-ine’ to convert nouns to adjectives (‘alpine’, ‘bovine’, ‘crystalline’—that kind of thing).

As you probably know, ‘clement’ comes to us from the Latin ‘clemens’ meaning something like ‘merciful’ when applied to a person (who might grant ‘clemency’), and the same sense of ‘mild’ or ‘gentle’ when applied to the weather, as we do today. According to some sources, ‘clemens’ originally derived from ‘clino’ (as in incline) and ‘menos’ (as in minus), putting us in mind of an easy, gentle downhill slope.

So, are ‘clementines’ named for a mild, non-acidic flavour? Or perhaps they grow best in ‘clement’ weather? Or maybe we’re reaching back even further, and they’re cultivated on gentle sunny slopes?

Sadly, it’s none of the above. They were first cultivated by a French missionary called Clément Rodier in Algeria and are named after him. That’s an etymological disappointment, but at least I learned something along the way.


The image at the top of this post was generated by Midjourney.

This post was filed under: Post-a-day 2023.

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