• calabash •
kæ-lê-bæsh • Hear it!
Part of Speech: Noun
Meaning: 1. Any of several vines and at least one tropical tree whose fruit is a smooth, bottle-shaped gourd or anything that resembles such a gourd. 2. A dipper made from a calabash or other gourd. 3. An S-shaped pipe with a large bowl, originally made from such gourds.
Notes: I can recall weekends at my grandparents' house before plumbing. We got our water from a sink and a hand pump on the back porch and drank from a dried gourd with a long handle that some called a calabash. (The younger generation was already calling calling it the dipper.) Today the word is reserved either for the original plant itself (Lagenaria siceraria) or the pipe Sherlock Holmes made famous.
In Play: The bend in the calabash pipe allows for the user to more easily hold the pipe in his mouth, leaving his hands free to do other things. This is why Sherlock Holmes is often portrayed in movies smoking a calabash pipe, something he never did in the stories of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle. The US comedian, Jimmy "The Schnoz" Durante, always ended his shows with, "Goodnight, Mrs. Calabash, wherever you are." Apparently, Calabash in this instance was a reference to his first wife, Jeanne Olsen, who died in 1943 in Calabasas, California. It was either her mispronunciation of the name of the town during her illness or Durante's own.
Word History: Today's Good Word is one of those rare contributions to English from Arabic. English borrowed it directly from French calebasse "gourd". The French borrowed it from Spanish calabaza, itself borrowed from Catalan carabaça. Catalan seems to have picked up the word from an Arabic phrase, brought in by the Moors, qar'a yabisa "dried gourd", containing qar'a "gourd" + yabisa. Yabisa is the feminine of yabis "dried". Others surmise the word came from Persian kharbuz "melon", whence Russian arbuz "watermelon". However, this speculation stands on very shaky legs.
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