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Americans call them 'zucchini', which I assume is the Italian name, whilst we in Britain use the French name - courgettes.

But I am wondering if the vegetable ever had an English name. The earliest quotation in the OED is from 1931.

Did the Victorians not eat them? I have to admit that they were never part of our diet until the late 1960s. But they grow perfectly well in the English climate, provided you don't plant them out till after the frosts have finished.

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Hmm... baby marrows? –  Mari-Lou A Feb 26 at 21:59
    
What @Mari-Lou said. As a child I sometimes ate baby marrows from our allotment in the early 60s. Not often, because we usually expected to maximise the crop of full-grown marrows later in the year. But in at least a couple of years my father decided there were likely to be too many, so we'd harvest a few very early on. See also the related earlier question “courgettes” vs. “zucchini” under a historical perspective –  FumbleFingers Feb 26 at 22:07
    
@Mari-LouA In Italian do you have a different word for 'marrow', or does zucchini cover both large and small? –  WS2 Feb 26 at 22:11
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Not sure if marrows and zucchini/courgettes are the same vegetable, definitely related, but I don't think I've ever seen anyone growing their crop until they are massively overgrown. Zucca (singular) Zucche (pl) are pumpkins in Italian (sorry) –  Mari-Lou A Feb 26 at 22:12
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Could be that zucchini (little zucche) mean the same as baby pumpkins/marrows. But Zucche are normally yellow to orange coloured, either tubular shaped or your normal halloween type pumpkins. –  Mari-Lou A Feb 26 at 22:16
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4 Answers

up vote 9 down vote accepted

Courgettes were first introduced in the UK in the early 1930s, several cookery writers began including this versatile vegetable in their recipes. Marcel Boulestin, in 1931, translated the French term, courgette, as baby marrows. However, the French word stuck and

The Oxford English Dictionary in its A-G supplement, gives the first use of courgettes to E.Lucas in the same year, in Vegetable Cookery

Elizabeth David, in 1960, wrote her master book, French Provincial Cooking, and said:

"enterprising growers are supplying us with little courgettes as an alternative to gigantic vegetable marrows".

Meanwhile in the US, the book A Fruit and Vegetable Buying Guide for Consumers By Gerald Rowden Blountthe, published in 1933, tells us that the vegetable was known on some markets as vegetable marrow or Italian vegetable marrow, or zucchini.

Zucchini is the Italian term, its singular form, zucchina or zucchino means "little pumpkin". The term squash, gourd, comes from the Indian skutasquash also spelled as asquutasquash, meaning "green thing eaten green."


EDIT: I found an older reference which suggests that the harvesting of immature (baby) marrows was not unheard of in the 19th century. The book entitled The New and Improved Practical Gardener, and Modern Horticulturist by Charles McIntosh, published in London, 1839 refers to marrows as vegetable-marrows and claims that it can be eaten at any stage of its growth. Of possible interest, the term culinary garden is used throughout the volume, and tomatoes in England were also known as love-apples.

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Its latin name, Cucurbita succada, also explains the origins of Italian word, zucca (pumpkin) and the diminutive term zucchini, although both vegetables belong to the same genus, cucurbita, they are quite different from each other, the latter being harvested in the summer months. Wikipedia however, informs us that zucchini belongs instead to the species Cucurbita pepo

The morphological differences within the species C. pepo are so vast that its various subspecies and cultivars have been misidentified as totally separate species. These vast differences are rooted in its widespread geographic distribution. C. pepo is one of the oldest, if not the oldest domesticated species. The oldest known locations are in southern Mexico in Oaxaca 8,000-10,000 years ago and Ocampo, Tamaulipas, Mexico about 7,000 years ago

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This is interesting if you can read it, which I presume you can: “El italiano actualmente emplea preferentemente zucca, que algunos ven producto de una reducción y metátesis de la forma cucuzza, pero que es más fácil que esté algo influido por el griego σικύα de fuerte influjo en la Italia del sur.” The whole article covers all 7 of Spanish, Catalan, Portuguese, Italian, Latin, French, and Greek words for pumpkin/gourd/squash. It’s rather interesting. –  tchrist Feb 27 at 4:28
    
Excellent answer which has explained a curiosity I had held for some time. Thanks. –  WS2 Feb 27 at 8:08
    
@WS2 My pleasure. If your curiosity has been whetted you might be interested in hearing how the term, courgette, became popular in the UK. It seems the cookery writer, Elizabeth David was largely responsible for this, refusing to Anglicize Italian and French produce (my supposition based on Googling). –  Mari-Lou A Feb 27 at 8:17
    
@Mari-LouA No high-class cuisine in Britain always employed French terminology. I remember, in the 1950s, staying at a relatively modest hotel in London and finding that the menus were all in French. –  WS2 Feb 27 at 8:35
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I don't think there ever was an English name for them simply because, as you said, it came very lately in England. The Victorians loved the use of French words because it was a sign of good education. So I do think it remained as such in modern English.

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French words are no longer “a sign of good education” in English. English words are. –  tchrist Feb 27 at 0:21
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Of course, if we use it, the word becomes English by right of conquest. –  Oldcat Feb 27 at 1:02
    
@tchrist 'French words are no longer a sign of good education in English'. Upon what authority do you say that? –  WS2 Feb 27 at 7:53
    
I only meant that it used to be a sign of good education and then, as @Oldcat said the word became English "by right of conquest". –  user3158 Feb 27 at 16:06
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@WS2 Using French words in English says nothing whatsoever about one’s English education; it says something else. The writer of English who litters his prose avec des mots étrangers is one who ipso facto presents l’esprit not of douce sensibilité attuned to the Zeitgeist of the broader Οἰκουμένη so much as that of the poseur jactant, an élitist snob whose asquerous efforts to elevate himself above vulgus and bourgeoisie alike effects precisely lo contrario of his intended meta. In short, it’s a twit marker — and quite a reliable one at that, n’est-ce pas? “Render unto France . . .” –  tchrist Feb 27 at 22:18
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In the US, the term summer squash is used for a variety of gourds including zucchini.

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It appears that there never used to be an English word for courgette. Squash goes back thousands of years, where it was cultivated in Central and South America. After the European’s discovery and subsequent colonisation, the squash found its way to Europe where it became zucchini in Italy and courgette in France. Both words translate as small squash (zucca is the Italian word for squash, courge is the French equivalent). The front man for the courgette was Frenchman Marcel Boulestin who loved England so much that he decided to live in London. He opened up a very expensive French interior design store and wrote about French cooking Source: EVS Translations Word of the Day: Courgette

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