I was trying to find an authoritative etymology of the word “satsuma” in English. It’s not completely apropos of nothing; the word is definitely of Japanese origin, being the name of a place in Kyushu. In Japanese, the word “satsuma” usually refers to “satsuma imo”, the sweet potato that I wrote about earlier. Satsuma oranges are called “mikan” in Japanese, by the way.

According to a story I heard, the first mikan imported into England came from Satsuma, and were therefore marked “Satsuma” on the container. People—not unreasonably—mistook the place of origin for the name of the item, and it stuck. I have always liked that tale, but I don’t know whether there is any truth in it.

Unfortunately, I couldn’t find anything to confirm or deny it, but in the course of my search, I came across a comprehensive list of foreign words absorbed into English. Amusingly, the list includes “American English” as one of the foreign languages.

Have a look on that page under “Nahuatl”—you may never look at an avocado the same way again!