Thursday, July 5, 2007

So Mangos Are a Fruit? Who Knew!

I was well into my twenties before I found out there was a fruit called mango. You see, I grew up with green mangos. The bell pepper, green pepper mangos. That's what they were called in my house and I'd never seen or heard of the fruit. Mango as a fruit wasn't that common around here and still isn't eaten commonly, although it is available in the produce section of the grocery stores.

It's been said that I am making this up, this calling a green pepper a mango, but I swear, I'm not. However, when I encountered numerous individuals that gave me 'the look' whenever I mentioned this, I decided I'd better do some investigating about its origin.

What I found was this, on's website:


The word ‘mango’ is used in some areas to refer to green peppers or stuffed green peppers. Pennsylvania, West Virginia, Ohio, Indiana, Illinois and Missouri are all states that I have received e-mails about grandparents, parents and even current usage of ‘mango’ for green pepper.

Recent information I have come across (thanks in part to an e-mail from website visitor Richard Clark) I believe explains how and why the usage of the word spread along the path it did. Usage of 'mango' for green peppers seems to have originated with coal miners in eastern Pennsylvania (1870s +) - and spread with the mining industries, and then with the miners' families as they migrated to new areas and found new jobs.

But why the word 'mango' for green peppers? Many of these coal miners were of Eastern European origin, and it has been suggested that the word may have a Slovak origin. The English 'dialect' of the Appalachian region with its unique pronunciation, grammar, and word usage is due in large part to the immigration of miners, engineers and others from so many countries coming together in one area and being relatively isolated in the small mining towns. They came from Russia, Poland, Czechoslovakia, Hungary, Germany, Scotland, Wales, Greece, Turkey, and Syria to name a few - so the word 'mango' might have been adapted from one of these languages.

From the American Dictionary of Regional English (Harvard University Press) as reported on the PBS website:

2 also mango pepper ... A pepper, esp a green pepper 1. chiefly W Midl See Map1948 WELS Suppl. VA, I was surprised while living in Virginia to see green peppers advertised and sold as " mangoes...The use of the term mango for bell pepper . . is not limited to Indiana. I have heard it used in Louisiana and Georgia. We once had an old English gardener up in Vermont many years ago, and he always called the green pepper a mango. ... 1972 NYT Article Letters cnIN, In my home area, green (bell) peppers are called mangos

And Wikipedia reports:

In many midwestern regions of the United States the Sweet Bell Pepper is commonly called a mango. With the modern advent of fresh tropical fruit importers exposing a wider latitude of individuals to the tropical fruit variety of the Mango, this definition is becoming archaic. However many menus still call a stuffed Bell Pepper a Mango.

My grandmother's family lived in Virginia for a time, in fact, she was born there and was named Virginia, so it might be thought that in our family, this calling a green pepper a mango came from their living in that region. But if you ask others that live here in our part of Ohio if they've ever heard a green pepper called a mango, nine times out of ten you'll hear, "Sure!" accompanied by a look that says, "Why on earth would you ask such a thing?"

It might be something that's dying out, however, because it does seem to be the older people that are familiar with this. My own daughters had to be informed of the green pepper/mango nomenclature, just as it had to be explained what an adding machine was. I'll never forget the day I used that term in front of them. I was nearly laughed right out of the car.

"Don't you mean a calculator, Mom?" Now, I know what a calculator is and I know what an adding machine is, and they are not the same. An adding machine has paper - a calculator does not. A printing calculator does, so that would make an adding machine akin to a printing calculator. Got it now, kids?

I love this linguistic stuff. I say we embrace our regionalism and generationalism, while at the same time being open to learning new (to us) words and terms that are used for the same things. That way, when you're in Wisconsin and you're thirsty, you can ask for directions to the nearest bubbler.

(That's 'drinking fountain' for some of the rest of us, in case you didn't know.)


Stacey Renee said...


Thank you for that very interesting and educational post. My husband and I have had many discussions about this very thing. You see, his grandfather, who is from Peru, Indiana and now resides in Warsaw, IN, calls green bell peppers "mangoes." We have laughed and giggled about this often. My husband and I are in our thirties and have never heard this term except through Grandpa. I explained this story to MY dad, and then, lo and behold, he has heard and used the term when he was growing up in southern Indiana and southern Ohio. Thank you for posting the origins. I am a linguistic geek, and someday hope to work on a masters in linguistics. So, keep it comin'!
Great post! Thank you!!


Jared said...

How interesting! I honestly don't recall ever hearing a green bell pepper called a mango before. But I tell ya what, next time I see one, that's what I'm going to call it!

I had a roommate in college that was from West Virginia. We were grocery shopping and he asked, "Will you get us a buggy?" I said, "A buggy?" Apparently in some parts of West Virginia a shopping cart is referred to as a "buggy"? :)

Kylee Baumle said...

That's because you're too young, Jared! I don't mean that in a bad way. But my kids didn't know about that either, remember, and you're the same age as Jenna!

I knew about the 'buggy' thing. My aunt did a paper on linguistics for her Master's Thesis and she gave people all over the country a quiz (including all of her family here), and it dealt with all those regional terms: bag/sack, faucet/spigot, pop/soda, etc. It was so fun!

kate said...

Now that's one I haven't heard before! I love these regional expressions. Sort of like referring to flip-flops as thongs ... I still do because that's what we always call them. The other day I received a stern lecture from my little niece ... oh my!!

Unknown said...

What a great post, Kylee. Like Kate, I love regional expressions too, and it always is interesting to see how people respond to a new phrase or word (or meaning for a word, like mango for pepper.) Because I was born on The Rock of My Heart, also known as Newfoundland, I have a medley of strange words, yaffle being my favourite, as in a yaffle of weeds--a whole lot. Some people may think these things odd or incorrect--I just think they enrich the language.

Earth Girl said...

Mango! I haven't heard that for a while. In the 50s and 60s, everyone in our rural community (mostly German heritage) called them mangos, except for my parents. Probably because Dad was from the East Coast and Mom was a foodie and knew mango was a tropical fruit. Several years ago (1-20-05), I wrote a post about Hoosierisms; some may be familiar to you since you are in the same region just not the same state.

Unknown said...

Kylee, that answers my question from your zinnia post... thank you! I seriously thought that it was just my grandmother who called it that, but she kept insisting "that's what it is, a mango--everyone knows what a mango is!" :)

MrBrownThumb said...

That's really interesting.

When I was in HS one day I took a mango with me for lunch that I didn't eat. So I was eating it at the bus stop and people kept asking me what it was because they'd never seen it.

But I'd never heard of people calling bell peppers mangoes before.

Thanks for the info.

Correy said...

When I think of green mangos I think of latino and indian people who like to eat mangos way before they are ripe certainly not the bell pepper.

It is always interesting how language can mean different things to different people.

Anonymous said...

I live in Northern Ohio. We always called green peppers Mango's when I kid. It wasn't until the late 80's that we switched to saying green pepper.
My family is of german heritage so it may have come from dodo (GreatGrandma)

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