Not only is tongue a synonym for language and speech (the Latin is lingua) but the human tongue is also a fascinating organ important in the articulation of language, in the process of eating and responsible for our sense of taste. The human organ is said to have approximately 10,000 taste buds. The equivalent of the word ‘taste bud’ in other (Indo-European) languages is fascinating in itself. The Czech and Polish equivalents (respectively, chuťový pohárek and kubki smakowe) are wonderful phrases which literally mean ‘taste cups’ or ‘cups of taste’. Why buds and cups?
The answer can be found in the Latin for ‘taste bud’ – caliculus gustatorius and this seems to give us some insights into the word/phrase in other languages. Caliculus can be defined in English as a ‘small cup’, a ‘goblet’, a ‘polyp’ or a ‘small cup-shaped hollow’. This does not entirely explain the English use of ‘bud’, but it does help us understand why ‘cup’ is used in Czech and Polish.
Another interesting point is the word smak in Polish (cмак in Ukrainian) which was borrowed from German. It derives from the Old High German smac giving us Geschmack in German, Grundsmak in Swedish, Smaak in Dutch, and Smak in Norwegian. The word smack was actually used also in English (smæc in Old English) and the remnants of this expression (meaning taste) can be seen in the phrase, “This smacks of…”
Polish and Ukrainian use the borrowed smak (cмак) whereas other Slavonic languages use chuť (Czech and Slovakian), bкус (= vkus) (Russian and Belarusian) and okus (Croatian, Slovenian). To compare, the Lithuanian is the rather similar skonis. Language is simply a repository of culture, ideas and knowledge. Every language is in itself a vessel, a ‘cup’ that houses the history of that language and its people and shows us what the language and its people have experienced. Sometimes, looking into this ‘tasty cup’ can give us some surprising results.