The first bananas to reach England could have come from the Spanish West Indies or from the Far East. The banana appears to have originated in southern Asia in prehistoric times and spread to the islands of the Pacific when immigrants carried them from the Asian mainland. They were found on all the tropical Pacific islands by the time white men first visited them. The name itself is West African. Bananas were introduced to the Western Hemisphere by Friar Tomas de Berlanga, who brought them from the Canary Islands to Hispaniola in 1516.
Soon they were growing in Mexico and thriving so well that many later visitors mistakenly thought the banana was indigenous to America. Today more than a hundred million bunches of bananas are shipped around the world every year. With their high nutritive value, bananas greatly enrich our diets. They have also enriched our language, as witness the song title “Yes, We Have No Bananas,” the political term banana republic, the tasty banana split at your local malt shoppe, the Bic Banana felt-tip marker, and the financially hard-pressed widow who promises herself that her next husband will be “a rich old man with one foot in the grave and the other foot on a banana peel.”


What five-letter word can be shortened to only one letter but still be pronounced correctly? The answer, of course, is queue (pronounced kyoo). It appeared in print as early as 1592 as a heraldic term for the tail of a beast, coming from the Old French coue, which in turn came from the Latin cauda, meaning “tail.” By 1748 queue had acquired a second definition: a long plait of hair hanging down from the back of the head, so called because of its resemblance to the tail of an animal (and now known as a pigtail). In 1837 the English writer Thomas Carlyle used the word the way we use it today: to describe a number of people lined up at a ticket office or checkout counter, presumably because the lineup resembles the shape of an animal’s tail.