Medlars/Schöne deutsche Wisbeln


Although many fruit and vegetable names have regional variants in German, I don’t believe this is one of them. Mispeln are medlars, not to be confused with Japanese medlars or loquats, also sometimes called Mispeln in Germany – I’ve also seen the Turks selling them as nespole, which is Italian for medlar. The Oxford Book of Food says medlars are inedible until kept over winter in moist bran or sawdust.

I can understand the B for P, but the W for M seems more mysterious. Perhaps this is a chance to have the only Internet site displaying the word Wisbeln.

9 thoughts on “Medlars/Schöne deutsche Wisbeln

  1. I have a tree of the other kind of medlar, the loquat, in my back yard. I had never heard of the fruit until I moved to Mexico (from Canada). I thought they were called “míspero” in Spanish, until I saw the name in writing; it is “níspero”, although “míspero” is seen as an infrquent variant.

  2. That sounds nice. I don’t know why they are called medlars, but I think I read somewhere that there was a time of the year when medlars (kept over winter) were the only sweet fruits available, and these loquats apparently produce fruit earlier than anything else, so maybe there was a time of the year when medlars and loquats were both available. Now that apricots and other fruits have been bred to produce fruit earlier, loquats have competition. The loquats don’t travel well, do they? The ones in the Turkish greengrocer’s here mostly have brown spots – the trick is to pick the ones with the least serious brown spots.

  3. Medlars contain the same toxin as almonds and can only be eaten once they have decomposed. So what sound do they make as they decompose? Could it be a hissing, a whispering, or, in Middle High German, wispeln?

  4. I’ve never eaten a medlar, and had in fact never heard of them until I was involved in a game of “fictionary” (in which one is given an obscure word and asked to select the true definition from a set of false ones). In this example the word was not the noun “medlar”, but the verb “blet”.

    You can’t eat medlars unless you blet them; and as far as I can tell medlars are the only things you blet. There’s something linguisticophilosophically peculiar about this. Here we have two obscure English words locked in mutually-dependent interreference. I wonder if there are other such pairs (or triads) of words lurking out there.

  5. Aha! OED (from French blettir) – But it seems to be intransitive.
    intr. To become ‘sleepy,’ as an over-ripe pear, a special form of decay to which fleshy fruits are subject. Hence “bletting vbl. n.
    1835 Lindley Introd. Bot. (1848) II. 257 After the period+of ripeness, most fleshy fruits undergo a new kind of alteration; their flesh either rots or blets. Ibid. Bletting is+a special alteration. 1864 Reader 21 May 653 The decomposition+of the pericarp begins with fermentation, and, after having passed through the intermediate stage of bletting [to use Dr. Lindley’s word], ends in the total obliteration of the cellular structure.

  6. That’s true, I didn’t think of that. But is it a general rule? I forgot to consult these Wisbel-sellers, who are only there on Saturdays. I’ll try to remember at the weekend.

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