I came across this on the Code Switch blog on npr.org:
Vanilla - the spice and its history -are not so bland as metaphorical uses of the term might suggest.
Europeans used vanilla in couple different ways:
- Medical reasons. And by medical reasons, I mean sex reasons. According to the Encyclopedia of American Indian Contributions To The World, the root of the name that the Spaniards gave the plant, was vaina. This referred to both the vanilla pod and the Latin word for vagina. Vanilla was used as both an aphrodisiac and a nerve stimulant. (So maybe if you want to take some cues from the Spaniards, you'll be giving out vanilla beans instead of chocolate next Valentine's Day, eh? Eh?)
So, watch whom you're calling vanilla!