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Do "sparrow grass" and "alligator pear" have any currency in spoken AE, or are these terms chiefly dialectal?

  • Both terms are simply approximate alliterations of the "proper" names. Since it's inconceivable any significant number of retail chains would use them, it's highly unlikely many people would be unaware of the standard terms, therefore it's just POB as to whether they use the alternatives facetiously or not. – FumbleFingers Mar 2 '14 at 16:48
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    @FumbleFingers Alligator pear is more of a description of the appearance than a mere alliterative. – David M Mar 2 '14 at 16:53
  • That partly depends on which particular variety you're thinking of. In the UK we see more of the green smooth-skinned types than the brownish/black knobbly ones. But I honestly think it's way ott to say the descriptive element is more relevant than the alliterative one. It seems to me if it didn't have the same number of (similar) syllables, there's virtually no chance alligator would be used in this context. – FumbleFingers Mar 2 '14 at 17:10
  • @FumbleFingers I was dumbfounded by this comment about similar syllables. Then I realized this was one of those two countries separated by a common language moments. In AmE alligator and avocado sound nothing alike. To the point where my mind was set agog by the suggestion!!!! – David M Mar 2 '14 at 18:00
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    @petershor I think you will allow that there is a fair bit of synergism here, though. It's easy to mistake something for the word alligator if it also happens to look like one … – David M Mar 2 '14 at 21:14
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I've heard Alton Brown and others use the term alligator pear to describe an avocado. But, it was an attempt to sound campy rather than common usage.

I don't think anyone unfamiliar with this rare usage would immediately know your meaning at first blush.

As to sparrow grass… this is the first I've heard it. It is probably a folksy mispronunciation of Asparagus. Similar to old-timer's disease in place of Alzheimer's Disease.

Purely coincidentally, the word avocado comes to English by way of Spanish through serial mispronunciation. Derived from the term aguacate (avocado tree). This was itself a mispronunciation of the Nahuatl word āhuacatl (meaning testicle). Many incorrectly assume it comes from abogado which means lawyer (not only because of the similar pronunciation, but also due to the similar meanings of lawyer and testicle). Source Wikipedia

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    "Sparrow grass" is indeed a mispronunciation of asparagus. It's attested to since the 18th century at least. In 1791, John Walker wrote about the term: "sparrow-grass is so general that asparagus has an air of stiffness and pedantry." (source) – tobyink Mar 2 '14 at 17:00
  • The term Alligator pear is also used to refer to chayote or mirleton: fatfreevegan.com/blog/2010/03/23/… – Wayfaring Stranger Mar 2 '14 at 17:04
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    From great words little eggcorns grow. And flourish, or don't. – John Lawler Mar 2 '14 at 17:05
  • @John: I suppose there might really have been an original "eggcorn" that genuinely was used to mean the seed/fruit of an oak tree - but even if it did ever exist, that one obviously fell on stony ground. Or perhaps it just survived long enough to give birth to its mutant offspring, which definitely flourishes today. Partly thanks to the Internet, I suspect, which allows a constant stream of new coinages to be publicised, even if they don't actually have any true "parentage" in past non-facetious usage. – FumbleFingers Mar 2 '14 at 17:30
  • Right. It's more like DNA sharing between bacteria, or occasionally polyploidy. – John Lawler Mar 2 '14 at 17:46

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