Beyond Words - Language Blog

Etymology of "Chocolate"

Before the word chocolate came into the English language from Spanish, Hernan Cortes learned of a potent Aztec beverage made with cacahuaquchtl powder (the origin of the word “cocoa”), chili, musk, and honey. In a 1519 expedition to the New World, Cortes received a friendly reception from the Aztecs of Tenochtitlan (present-day Mexico City), who offered him the beverage tchocoatl. In the Nahuatl language of the Aztects, tchocoatl is derived from two words that mean “bitter water”: xocolli and atl.

Another linguistic thread in the story of chocolate links the Nahuatl word chicol-li, a type of beating stick used in cooking, with the preparation of a frothy chocolate beverage. The original name of this drink may have been chicolatl, meaning “beaten drink.”