Wednesday, December 3, 2008
The Hindi-Urdu word for "grape" shown here (अंगूर انگوُر aṅgūr) was borrowed from Persian angūr "grape", which is sometimes given as the ultimate source of gherkin.
The OED tells us that Greek ἀγγούριον "watermelon" became Italian anguria "cucumber" and French angourie "water melon". The word is also found in Slavic, like Czech okurka and Polish ogurek, with a diminutive -k suffix. One of these Slavic words is the source of German Gurke and Dutch gurkje "cucumber". An earlier form of Dutch word, something like *gurkkijn, was borrowed into English as gherkin.
What's not clear is where the Slavic and Greek words come from. Chambers says gherkin is of "Eastern origin, as in Pers. khiyâr." Skeats says "The word is thus based upon a form agur*, due to a (put for al, the Arab. def. article) prefixed to Pers. khiyár, a cucumber." But as the OED notes, Persian angūr doesn't mean "cucumber" or "watermelon", it means "grape".