In India I learned most of the local language at the School of Hard Knocks, otherwise known as the vegetable market. Elbowing my way through the horde of pickers, it was:
“I’ll take that one, what do you call it?”
“Ach-cha, I’ll take chaari.”*
What do they call them in your country?
“Aubergine. Or sometimes eggplant.”
The vegetable in question is native to southern India, where it was originally known as vatinganah (in Sanskrit). Legend holds that this word, broken up, literally means “fart, go away!” But this ain’t true.
From India the purple perennial travelled west and became badinjāna (Persian) and الباذنجان (al-badhinjān; Arabic). In the 11th century Ibn Sina (aka Avicenna) observed that the badhinjān generates melancholy and obstructions.
In some modern Arabic dialects the word passes the ears as baydhinjān, which sounds like it derives from “egg” (baydh) or “house” (bayt) “of the devil” (ad-djinn).**
The veggie encroached upon Europe from two sides. In the west, Arabic influence led to the Spanish berenjenafrom whence came albergínia (Catalan) and aubergine (Middle French).