The other day a word caught my imagination. The word is ‘Bay leaves’, which is printed on the wrapper of an established manufacturer and exporter of Indian snacks., as one of the ingredients of the snack. I took it as ‘bay-soppu’ (ಬೇ/ಬೇಯ್ ಸೊಪ್ಪು),which has been in use both in Tulu and Kannada. Hence my surprise for the English usage of 'bay’.
English-English-Kannada dictionary gives the meaning of ‘bay’ as a kind of tree, besides other meanings. Bay leaves, therefore, means leaves of that tree. There are variety of trees under ‘bay’ category. It leads to confusion.
There is an Entry in Webster’s Dictionary for ‘bay leaf’. It means ‘an aromatic leaf of the laurel tree, dried and used as a spice in cooking.’ There is also a word ‘bay-berry’, commonly used (1) for any of several shrubs, as the wax myrtle, with wax coated berries or (2) for a tropical tree, yielding an oil used in ‘bay rum’.
‘Bay/Bey’ (ಬೇ/ಬೇಯ್) means ‘to boil, fry or cook’ in both Tulu and Kannada. Soppu (ಸೊಪ್ಪು) means leaves. The bay - soppu is same as ‘kari- bevu’ (ಕರಿ ಬೇವು), i.e. leaves used in cooking for flavor. It is commonly known as ‘curry leaves’ in English.
Trading in spices was the profitable marine trade, engaged firstly by Arabs and afterwards by Europeans, in Indian coasts, especially with merchant-producers and middlemen in West Coast of South India.The word ‘bay soppu’ voyaged to Arabia and thence spread to Europe.
So, we deduce that loaning of word must have happened during medieval marine trade. Hence the English version of ‘Bay leaves’ or ‘Curry leaves’. Our averment should not be taken as ‘it is all a joke’. The bay soppu speaks for itself.
Hosabettu Vishwanath, Pune