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I've always known this fruit as papaya. It was only in recent times that I started hearing "paw-paw" used instead of "papaya". I also looked up the dictionary, but no relevant word came up. Where did this term originate from?

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closed as off-topic by Edwin Ashworth, ScotM, Drew, Ellie Kesselman, Marv Mills Jun 15 '15 at 9:04

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up vote 10 down vote accepted

Pawpaw and papaya are actually two different fruits. The pawpaw has yellow flesh and is larger, whereas the papaya has orange or red flesh.

Source: http://www.gtproduce.com.au/products.html#paw

The fruit's name was probably derived from its source: the pawpaw tree.


Here is some clarification on the etymology of the name.

Although many dictionaries indicate that the papaya and the pawpaw are the same fruit, they are actually distinct in nature. The papaya is of the scientific family Caricaceae, and the pawpaw is of the family Annonaceae.

I ran across this post by Meghan Bartels on quora.com regarding the etymological origins of the words "banana" and "papaya," and I felt it was relevant to this discussion:

According to the Oxford English Dictionary, both terms come to English from the Spanish/Portuguese word for the tree. "Banana" was applied in 1563 by De Orta as an adaptation of the term used in the Congo. "Papaya" originated in Taino or Arawak and spread among the Romance languages after appearing in Spanish between 1535 and 1557. Both terms were applied first to the tree and only later to the fruit.

"Papaya" and "pawpaw," have similar origins, but the first known use of "pawpaw" was later--1624, according to Merriam-Webster--suggesting that it derives from its similarity to the papaya. There is actually a lot of debate on the internet about whether or not these two fruits are the same.

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(That answer is the cat's meow.) ;-D – Randolf Richardson May 30 '11 at 3:29
Oh, why thank you. Blush. – codelegant May 30 '11 at 3:31
I'm not sure I understand your last sentence, "The fruit's name was probably derived from its source: the pawpaw tree." That's like saying we call apples, apples, because they come from an apple tree. – Sam May 30 '11 at 5:09
@codelegant, if apples were named after the apple tree, it is reasonable to assume the fruit would be called "apple fruit" and the tree "apple". Just as the "Maple fruit" is named after the "Maple". Since most people can't tell apart a pear tree and an apple tree when they don't bear fruit, I'll stick to the mainstream opinion that trees are generally named after their fruit - especially for edible fruit. When people are interested in the plant itself rather than its fruit the fruit is named after the plant (e.g. hemp => hemp seed). – Alain Pannetier Φ Sep 22 '11 at 8:49
@MarkBeadles. I agree wholeheartedly, as this answer shows clearly enough ;-) Also note that this is true in a variety of languages. – Alain Pannetier Φ Mar 20 '12 at 16:55

Papaya (Carica papaya) is also called paw paw or papaw in some countries. In Australia only, yellow-fleshed cultivars of C. papaya are known as paw paw, and the red and pink-fleshed cultivars are known as papaya. However, another plant species, Asiminia triloba (family Annonaceae) is also called paw paw in North America. They are two distinct plants.

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the name paw-paw, comes from several North American Indian languages, esp. Muskogee, and it is the name of the tree, which in turn is the name of the fruit

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Hello Carla. Welcome to EL&U. Do you have any source to support this information? In particular do I have to understand that the fruit would be called after the tree? Since it is usually the other way round, I'm intrigued. – Alain Pannetier Φ Sep 22 '11 at 8:36

Pawpaw is the phonetic English translation of the ancient Igbo name of the large fruit with yellow flesh when ripe. "Pawpaw" was taken from the Igbo name "po po" (which is pronounced as "pawpaw" in English). The Igbos are an ancient people in the South Eastern territories of today's Nigeria in West Africa. Igboland is about the same population as Canada. Po po is one of the most beloved fruits in Igboland.

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This is an interesting answer. Can you please identify reputable sources which support it. Thanks. – MετάEd May 7 '13 at 14:37

Papaya and pawpaw are the same, but papaya comes from a part of the scientific name of pawpaw, which is Carica papaya.

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The Ewe language in western Africa, more precisely southern Togo and Ghana, uses pawpaw for "papaya". You can see a video of translations on the Web.


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Papaya and pawpaw are just slightly different ways of saying the same word. And yes Asimina triloba is an unrelated plant from North America which also has been given the name pawpaw too for some reason.

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Hello Ralph. If you check the other answers, you'll see that 'Papaya and pawpaw are just slightly different ways of saying the same word.' is not strictly true; 'In some registers / areas, papaya and pawpaw are used interchangeably' is more accurate. – Edwin Ashworth Jun 13 '15 at 9:12

The fruits we called pawpaws when I was growing up in Ohio had a dark mottled green skin and were around 4 inches long by 2+ inches, with watery pale yellow sweet strongly banana-tasting flesh. Quite unlike the tropical fruit called papayas that grow readily here in Hawaii and are sold in every grocery. Of course, I'm not denying an etymological connection ...

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