Back in my England days there was one thing you could almost always rely on: somewhere in my fridge you would find half a lemon. Always half a lemon. When you have a whole lemon, there are all kinds of uses (for half of it) – squeeze it over some fish, slice it for drinks, the list goes on… But what about the other half? That would sit in my fridge for days, slowly shrinking and shrivelling and becoming increasingly useless.
Here in Brazil things are different – we have limes! Aren’t limes great? Not only do they have an amazingly fragrant, tangy, zingy flavour, but they are just the right size! You won’t find half a lime in my Brazilian fridge.
But what about lemons? Here in Brazil (in Rio at least) they seem to be very rare. After learning that the Portuguese for lime is limão, I wondered what the word for lemon was. The answer? Limão. Huh? “You use the same word for both lemons and limes?” I asked incredulously. It was like the moment I found out that Portuguese (and Spanish) uses the same word for fingers and toes! (Dedos).
Well, that is the simple answer anyway. In fact there is a way to distinguish between your limões (and your dedos). You get specific.
So, to recap, the short answer is that there is one word in Portuguese which covers lemons and limes (limão). The long answer is that there are different words that cover different varieties of citrus fruit that come in a variety of different colours!
Interestingly, the French word for lime is Citron Vert, literally ‘Green Lemon’. I guess that reflects the dominance of the lemon over the lime in Europe. And in case you were wondering, the solution for distinguishing between fingers and toes is simpler than the citrus situation. Fingers are Dedos and toes are Dedos dos pés – foot fingers!