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According to Google Ngrams eggplant is far more common (although in British English aubergine seems to have a small advantage over eggplant).

So, not being a native speaker of English I wonder whether using the word "aubergine" would be considered smug or weird by native speakers.

The thing is that I find the word "aubergine" a bit more natural because it's basically the same as in German (Aubergine) -- which happens to be my native language.

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Here in the US, people will not understand you if you say aubergine. Not smug or weird, just unintelligible. –  GEdgar Jan 25 '12 at 20:52
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I think many North American speakers would not be familiar with the word aubergine. –  Michael Mior Jan 25 '12 at 20:52
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I have a Swiss friend who now lives here in the US. When she first used the word aubergine, she was fondling an eggplant. That helped me make the connection rather strongly. –  Gnawme Jan 25 '12 at 21:10
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Equally very few Brits would understand "eggplant" –  Waggers Jan 26 '12 at 7:18
    
FYI Use brinjal in India. –  abhinav Jan 26 '12 at 13:22
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4 Answers 4

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Aubergine is the British word (originally, I think, from French, but there's no percentage in guessing exactly how), and many British cooks literally would not know what eggplant is. In North America, as others have said, it's the other way about.

Interestingly, there is another vegetable with the same identity problem; what the British call courgettes and the Americans zucchini.

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Exactly so. Aubergine is, it appears, a diminutive of ‘auberge’ , in turn a variant of ‘alberge’ and that is, a little mystifyingly, a kind of peach. First appeared in print in Englsh in 1796. –  Barrie England Jan 25 '12 at 21:28
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What's really interesting is that in German, the former is almost exclusively called Aubergine while the latter is exclusively known as Zucchini. –  leftaroundabout Jan 26 '12 at 12:02
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Americans also will have no idea what a vegetable marrow might be. –  Peter Shor Jan 26 '12 at 13:41
    
@Peter Shor: That sounds really weird! Do you still call them "courgettes" if you've let them grow really big? I expect by now most growers use different varieties anyway, but when I was a child helping out on our family allotment, we harvested some of the small marrows early to give the others more chance to grow bigger. And we called those small ones "courgettes" - a real delicacy at the time, as I recall. –  FumbleFingers Jan 26 '12 at 16:55
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The situation in Australia at least in my lifetime post WWII is that we use eggplant and zucchini. I always know aubergine but never remember what courgette means. Both aubergine and courgette sound French to me and always strike me as odd coming from British people given the lack of love between the two countries. If I heard Australians use either it would sound affected. It could well be that we used these words in Australia before the huge cultural influence of America in the wake of WWII. –  hippietrail Jan 30 '12 at 11:12
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In the United States, the word aubergine refers almost exclusively to the color (and almost never to the plant), while in British English, aubergine refers to both the plant and the color.

It's worth noting that aubergine is the French word for eggplant. As is the case with many French loanwords, using aubergine over eggplant will likely convey a more poetic tone, although you may send some American readers running for a dictionary.

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Since you say Americans don't use the word aubergine, I take it you're referring to British usage when you say the word "will likely convey a more poetic tone". But I'm afraid that's complete tosh - it's just the standard word Brits use. I certainly wouldn't expect to see the word eggplant on a supermarket till receipt. In fact, googling "tesco eggplants" currently gets no hits at all, against 73 for "tesco aubergines". A small sample size, I admit - but infinitely in favour of my point. –  FumbleFingers Jan 25 '12 at 22:51
    
@FumbleFingers Please re-read the first sentence. I never said Americans don't use aubergine. –  HaL Jan 26 '12 at 15:53
    
If you have a problem with my comment (which probably has more upvotes than any other comment I've made on ELU in the year I've been here), why not change your answer text to make it clear your reference to "poetic" connotations *only applies to Americans"? –  FumbleFingers Jan 26 '12 at 16:46
    
@FumbleFingers Please see my further non-topical comments in EL&U chat. Thanks. –  HaL Jan 26 '12 at 17:10
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In US English (AmE), there is no such word as 'aubergine', one would only ever refer to the vegetable in question as eggplant.

If you were to use the 'other' word, it would not be recognized as anything and so has not connotation of being smug or high class (as a recognizable French word might give, like 'frisson' or 'panache').

I gather though that aubergine is perfectly natural in British English, but I can't speak of any nuance related to formality, smugness, or weirdness.

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No, it's not smug or weird. What is important is how to use the words eggplant and aubergine. This page explains it: http://dictionary.cambridge.org/dictionary/british/aubergine?q=aubergine

As with so much of English, how you use it depends on who your audience is. If you are talking to Americans, use the word eggplant. If you are talking to British people, use the word aubergine.

The thing is that I find the word "aubergine" a bit more natural because it's basically the same as in German (Aubergine) -- which happens to be my native language.

That's interesting. I didn't know that. Just another example of those things that German and British English have in common.

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protected by RegDwigнt Jul 8 '12 at 16:13

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