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Obviously, the Romans didn’t know anything about chocolate, since they had no access to any of the places cacao grew naturally. By the time Europe did learn of its existence, even ecclesiastical Latin was past its heyday. Nonetheless, Google Translate infamously offers scelerisque, more properly translated “and of the wicked deed.”

Is there any consensus on a neo-Latin word for “chocolate”? Has it shown up in a Catholic epistle or something by any chance? (I seem to recall an amusing discovery in high school that the Vatican had invented a Latin term for “hot pants” but I can’t find that list any more.) Or a compelling reason to think a particular coinage (even if unattested) would be “the right way” to say it?

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    vatican.va/roman_curia/institutions_connected/latinitas/… ... googled what you wrote about the hot pants and there it was
    – jsotola
    Mar 3, 2023 at 4:44
  • @jsotola Hah, wow, that’s the exact list I remember; the tacky paper texture background and everything. Odd that it didn’t come up for me... Oh well, neat to see it. Doesn’t give “chocolate” though.
    – KRyan
    Mar 3, 2023 at 5:08
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    @KRyan: Not that that Vatican page is necessarily the best source (some of their Latin translations are debatable), but “chocolate” is there: “cioccolato socolāta; socolatae pótio”.
    – DaG
    Mar 3, 2023 at 13:22

1 Answer 1

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Latin actually had staying power in the late Renaissance and a few centuries thereafter. We have plenty of treatises from 17th century Europe written in Latin about chocolate, and the word they used is most often chocolat-. You can find a short bibliography on Vicipaedia, though that article (anachronistically?) opted for socolata.

Such early works include:

  • a translation of Ledesma's 1631 history of chocolate, Chocolata inda: opusculum de qualitate et natura chocolatae.

This is a clear first declension noun, and not a bad way to go, in my opinion.

  • Cardinal Brancati's 1664 treatise, De chocolatis potu diatribe, which includes two poems on chocolate, "In laudem potionis chocolaticae".

The form in this work is chocolates, -is. (He also mentions cacao, but quickly glancing it over, I don't see where he might have included inflected forms of that word.)

You also have the form cocolates in the 1689 poem "De mentis potu, sive de cocolatis opificio." There "cacao" is cacaum, a neuter second-declension word.

This last word attests to the first letter being a voiceless velar plosive (k-), not a sibilant (s-), so I would probably rule out socolata, unless there's additional evidence I didn't come across.

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  • Very nice! Gonna just go ahead and accept—I’ll still read answers and I can swap the checkmark if I feel it’s appropriate, but as of this moment I feel this has well answered my curiosity! (And yeah, I wasn’t sure “past its heyday” was the best description of ecclesiastical Latin at the time, but my thinking was that the rise of chocolate in Europe coincided with the beginning of the end for widespread Latin use.)
    – KRyan
    Mar 1, 2023 at 18:15
  • I was doing some more reading and found something that might suggest a possible origin for an initial sibilant. There is a common (but dubious, apparently) etymology for chocolate that claims it comes from a Nahuatl word xocolātl that starts with /ʃ/. It seems that xocolātl is unattested in Nahuatl until the 19th century (meaning its origin may well be Spanish claims for the etymology of their word), but it is conceivable that Vicipaedia based it on how they imagine the Romans would latinize it, with /ʃ/ becoming /s/ instead of /tʃ/?
    – KRyan
    Mar 1, 2023 at 23:29
  • @KRyan Well, that and the word for chocolate being pronounced with /ʃ/ in certain European languages, like French and German, I suppose. By the way, “my thinking was that the rise of chocolate in Europe coincided with the beginning of the end for widespread Latin use” ← that is actually pretty accurate, but that “end” still took a few centuries time. Mar 1, 2023 at 23:35
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    @Obie2.0 I am really just parroting what I have read, which included statements that the *xocolātl etymology is in doubt.
    – KRyan
    Mar 2, 2023 at 18:54
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    @KRyan "[is it] conceivable that Vicipaedia based it on how they imagine the Romans would latinize it, with /ʃ/ becoming /s/ instead of /tʃ/?" --- Perhaps, but they're not the only ones to use that form. Seems it might pre-date Vicipaedia by a few years: en.wiktionary.org/wiki/socolata
    – cmw
    Mar 2, 2023 at 18:59

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