15

I found this in an ecological park:

enter image description here

Cola is actually a Latin word (a scientific one, referring to the plant), albeit its etymology is African.

I am curious about whether it is "probably" the best-known Latin word in the world. If not, which one might it be?

I think we could agree that Cola it is likely to be indeed very well known. We could also agree that it might be impossible to satisfactorily settle the issue of the "best-known" Latin word. Yet, hopefully, by comparing with other well-known words, we could gauge the extent to which that claim is likely to be true or not.

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    Age ten, I was sure everyone in the world knew "cave," pronounced 'K.V.' and "pax!' Now in Brexit time 'etcetera' sounds a good bet. – Hugh Apr 29 at 17:35
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    I would have guessed mamma – Hagen von Eitzen Apr 29 at 20:11
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    My (half in jest) guess would be "Fortnite"... – Moo Apr 30 at 3:41
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    I recall that Coca Cola did a study which determined that "Coke" was the second most universally recognized word in the world, after "Okay", which prompted them to briefly release a beverage called "OK Soda", which was not very successful. Whether that universal recognition extends to "Coca Cola" and from there to just "cola" is up for debate. And whether the word qualifies as "Latin" is yet another debate. – Darrel Hoffman Apr 30 at 13:28
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    @Joshua I was in one of the test market regions at that time, and had the opportunity to try it. It was - okay. So truth in advertising I guess. – Darrel Hoffman Apr 30 at 15:55
31

Cola is a Latinized form of kola, taken from some Niger-Congo language (it's not clear which) and applied to a genus of plants. It isn't a native Latin word and would have been unfamiliar to the Romans (except as the plural of the Greek borrowing colon, used as a technical term in rhetoric—completely unrelated).

So by these standards, I'd agree with K-HB and say the best-known Latinized name in the world is Jesus, adapted from Greek Iēsous, adapted from Hebrew Yešua. It's similarly a foreign word respelled in the Latin alphabet, so it's at least as Latin as Cola is, possibly more so (since the adaptation happened while Latin was still alive and thriving).

19

My impression is that "Latin name" here means "scientific name (of a species)". Many people seem to conflate scientific names and Latin names, although the two are different concepts. The way I see it, the claim is that cola is the best-known scientific name of a species in taxonomy. This claim is not unreasonable, but I will not comment on whether it is true.

Scientific names are formally in Latin, but they use elements from various languages. Some scientific names are proper Latin, but not very many. Therefore the claim isn't really about the Latin language at all, although it is worded as if it were.

If someone wants to figure out the best known scientific name, I recommend taking it to a separate question.

  • 4
    @user3819867 Boa constrictor as well. Just because the English name (and in other languages) is the same as the Scientific name. – Arthur Apr 30 at 11:44
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    I forgot about Iris. – user3819867 Apr 30 at 11:56
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    And Cannabis sativa L. – yunzen Apr 30 at 12:57
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    Gorilla gorilla anyone? Lots of commonly known animals have just their common name as their scientific name. – Darrel Hoffman Apr 30 at 14:24
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    How about homo, as in homo sapiens? – Barmar Apr 30 at 15:43
4

As others already noticed Cola is not originally Latin. It is a loan-word.

I would presume that Ave (or Amen) would be more appropriate. Every Christian and a lot of other people know those 2 words, which covers probably over a billion people.

And, as far as I know, both are truly original Latin words.

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    Unfortunately, "amen" was borrowed from Hebrew and "ave" was borrowed from Punic, both unrelated Semitic languages. But "ave" was borrowed somewhere around 300 BCE or earlier, so whether that one's "original" or not really depends on definition: it's definitely older than "cola". – Draconis Apr 30 at 22:46
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    As amen is also used in Judaism ans Islam it migth be the word best known. But I think it is as much Latin as English or Arabic. We clearly have a problem with our definition of "Latin" here. – K-HB May 1 at 11:53
  • @K-HB The answers could well be differentiated as "word acquired whilst Latin was a living language" (or, more purist, when Classical Latin was alive), versus "words adopted to Latin whilst being a dead language". (and didn't know amen is used in Islam). That's a pretty good candidate then! – luchonacho May 1 at 15:46
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    @K-HB Absolutely. I should rephrase: while amēn wasn't inherited into Latin from Proto-Indo-European, it was well-known by native speakers of the language. Far, far more native than cola; ave even more so, since very few people even knew its Punic origins by 1CE (+1). – Draconis May 2 at 2:38
  • @Draconis. Wiktionary, citing Lewis and Short, claims ave is from the imperative of aveo, which is clearly IE as it has cognates in Sanskrit and Cornish. Perhaps you could share more of this tale of its supposed Punic origins? – C Monsour Jun 18 at 17:00
1

I would figure words like Rex (eg: tyrannosaurus Rex, Oedipus Rex) would be better known.

1

The most famous Latin suffix (possibly), a case-ending, "-bus". For public-transport vehicles, in many countries, "-bus" appears somewhere in the word, even in Russia.

1

How about "O", as in "O tempora, o mores!" It still means the same today in English (and probably many other languages) that it meant in Latin.

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