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shameless pleading






Pick a peck of pickled … somethings.

Dear Word Detective:  I recently moved to Ohio, and I was in the supermarket here last week, buying some bell peppers to make spaghetti sauce.  The cashier couldn’t find the proper code to ring them up, and called out to another cashier, “What’s the code for mangoes?”  I explained that they were actually peppers and she said that she knew that, but that everybody she knew called them “mangoes,” although she didn’t know why.  I asked her what they called real mangoes (which the store also sells), and she looked at me suspiciously and said, “Mangoes.”  I gave up at this point because I began to suspect that I was either on Candid Camera or about to be detained by Homeland Security if I persisted in my inquiry.  So what’s going on with “mangoes”? — Carol C.

Well, Citizen C., I have reviewed the SnoopCam footage from your market visit, and I must say that you did indeed seem to be violating Section b17408A, Casting Aspersions on the Veracity of a Vegetable Vendor.  I must warn you that we take our mangoes seriously here in Ohio, even if we’re not, apparently, quite certain what they are.

In defense of Ohio, however, I must note that it’s not just us.  Much of the US Midwest  refers to sweet bell peppers, especially green peppers, as “mangoes.”  Fortunately, this little bit of weirdness has not escaped the attention of linguists, and so, thanks to the American Dialect Society (ADS), we have an actual scientific explanation of the mango-pepper duality (can we call it the Mango Tango?).  According to linguist David Bergdahl, in his article (“Mango: The Pepper Puzzlement”) published in the ADS journal American Speech in 1996, there is a logical reason for all of this.

The “mango,” the real one, is a tropical fruit indigenous to Southeast Asia and India, now grown all around the world, and known for its sweetness and unique flavor.  The name “mango” comes from the Tamil word “mankay,” and “mango” first appeared in English in the late 16th century.

The first mangoes imported into the American colonies were from the East Indies, and, since this was long before either high-speed transport or refrigeration, they arrived not as fresh fruit, but in pickled form.  This fact turns out to be the key to the mango-pepper mystery.  At some point, early on, there was a popular misunderstanding of the word “mango” in America, and people began to use “mango” as a general synonym for “pickled dish,” no matter what the dish  was made from.  Thus, in 1699, we find references in a cookbook to “a mango of cucumbers” and “mango of walnuts.”  Pretty soon almost anything that could be pickled was called a “mango.”   Apples, peaches, apricots, plums, even bunches of grapes, once pickled, became “mangoes,” usually in the form “mango of peach,” etc.  “Mango” even became a verb in the early 18th century meaning “to pickle.”

One of the most popular “mangoes” was created by stuffing a bell pepper with spiced cabbage and pickling the whole shebang.  Apparently, this concoction was so popular for so long that the green pepper itself, even unpickled, became known as a “mango,” and this is the usage that persists in the American Midwest today.

80 comments to Mango

  • Edward

    This explanation is especially interesting to me because I grew up in the Midwest, but I never heard anyone except my mother and, by extension, my family call a green bell pepper a mango. I was not unpleasantly surprised when I moved to the United Arab Emirates and saw and ate my first “mango” as the sign in the street market described this especially tasty fruit.

  • Dabbler

    The use of “mango” to mean pickle wasn’t just an American quirk. The 1699 book that’s mentioned above is “Acetaria: A Discourse of Sallets” by John Evelyn, published in England. Does anyone know how far back this usage goes?

  • […] mango may not be a pickle any more, but it is still, in the U.S., in Ohio and Indiana, a name for green peppers. Pickled Mangifera indica passed its name onto pickles more generically which, by 1948, had passed […]

  • Barbara

    The older generation in my area, NE PA, also referred to the green pepper as a mango but as people became more educated and knowledgeable and of course more familiar with real mangoes this has diminished and really only heard by the older generation and even many of them have stopped once they became aware and I’m sure in some cases not to give away their age.

  • […] The Word Detective gave an explanation of why green peppers were referred to as mangoes. It has roots as far back as the colonial era when the mango fruit (“real” mangoes) were brought to this country in pickled form from Asia. Eventually, the term mango would refer to almost pickled food. Peppers were often stuffed with cabbage and pickled. Green peppers became known as mangoes or mango peppers. […]

  • […] cabbage and pickled, so the word evolved to mean a pickled or unpickled green pepper (thanks to The Word Detective for that […]

  • Joan

    I live in the Midwest – Iowa – and have never, ever, heard type of bell pepper called a mango. This must be the part of the Midwest that’s east of the Mississippi, and probably east of Illinois. :)

    • Exit Ignorance

      Joan, We are absolutely positive that due to your cultural isolation you’ve “never, ever, heard type of bell pepper called a mango.” (sic) This cultural isolation is due to being West of Illinois, East of Nebraska, North of Missouri and South of Minnesota. :D Probably is indicative of all regions of your state. And we all know what I.O.W.A. stands for! :D :D
      Live in many states, in all directions – and I’m always so surprised when I hear the pot calling the kettle black.
      Boo to you Joan.

      • Cori

        I grew up near Detroit, MI, went to college in Bloomington, IN, and later lived a little north of West Lafayette, IN. While in college I worked for three years in a pizza restaurant and I’ve only ever heard green peppers be called “mangoes” once. The customer who’d requested them ended up figuring out that he needed to say “green peppers” (or “bell peppers”) and then explained that he was from Columbus, OH and that people call green peppers mangoes there. Considering how long I was taking pizza orders in a college town in the Midwest, I’d think I’d have heard it more often if it was so widespread throughout the Midwest. Certainly there were plenty of students at my college from all over the Midwest.

    • Donna Lohnes

      I now live in OH and just heard my neighbor call a green pepper a mango last night when I got her cole slaw recipe. I am originally from central IL and we didn’t use mango for green pepper there.

    • chris

      I never heard a bell pepper (no matter its color) called anything but a Pepper! I am originally from Schuylkill County, PA (anthracite belt), moving about this country: Joplin,MO, Syracuese,NY, Albany,NY, the UP of Michigan, LI,NY, & visited relatives throughout PA & NJ, & never heard that term. My college roommate & her folks (in MA) didn’t call a green bell pepper anything but a bell pepper.

  • Hamilton!

    stuffed or on a salad, we love our Mangos

  • Bart

    I grew up in Ohio, and my whole family called them Mango’s. Mother would make stuffed mango’s for dinner many times when I was a child. When I moved on in life and lived many places I quickly learned that this was an Ohio term. Thank You for finding out this problem!

  • Ann

    My 82 year old father, from Indiana, calls all peppers mangoes to this day

  • PD

    My family moved from New York to Indiana (no, not witness relocation) when I was 12. At 13 I started working after school at the local grocery store where everyone, much to my confusion, called bell peppers “mangoes”. 50 years on, I appreciate your solving the mystery for me.

  • indiana montana

    My 19 yr old niece works for a pizza place. She recently took a phohe order for a pizza with mangoes. She told the lady they didn’t have mangoes but they had pineapple. After 5 minutes discussion, the woman finally gave up and said just mushrooms then. My niece told her 60 yr old grandma what had happened. After my sister stopped laughing she explained that mangoes were green peppers.

  • redwiggler

    I too am in Ohio and I have a pizza delivery menu with “mango” in the toppings list. I can only assume they mean green bell pepper…because actual mango on my pizza sounds rather odd.

  • Indiana Colorado

    I grew up in Indiana with a Michigan father whose family always called green peppers mangoes. I never knew until I was an adult that there was such a thing as a fruit mango. I always figured it was just some oddity about my dad’s family, until I saw it in an old cookbook from the midwest. Now I know it was much more widespread than I ever figured. (And I have to say that the real thing is much more delicious than the green pepper “mango.”)

  • I grew up in Central Pennsylvania where I did not hear “mango” used for green peppers. But when I moved to Wilkes Barre, in the northeast part of the state, I heard the term often. Thanks, Word Detective, for answering this persistent question.

  • Michele

    I grew up south of Columbus, Ohio. My mother and father always called green peppers “mangoes”. I don’t remember her using that term as much once we moved to Maryland. I thought maybe my family was just crazy but am glad to see that we were not the only one’s to use it that way. This comes on the tail of me just eating a real mango–yummy. Was searching if green peppers were ever called the same thing!

  • Joe

    I grew up in northern Ohio and had never heard the word ‘mango’ used for green peppers locally (possibly because it was a central/southern Ohio thing?).

    However, my grandma who lives in east-central Indiana calls them mangoes to this day. The first time I noticed her use the word (I was in high school)I was thoroughly confused. Apparently it’s an older generation thing too, since her children and grandchildren say ‘green pepper.’

    Interesting stuff!!!

  • I grew up in small town central Illinois near Decatur and everybody there up thru 1960 (don’t know about today) called green peppers “mangoes.” I thought it was a close regionalism, but just tonight on Oregon Public Broadcasting, heard a farmer from Washington State, on a program about local produce, say he grows over 100 kinds of peppers, and called one of them a mango. He appeared to make a distinction between that pepper and a bell pepper, tho they looked alike to me. Wish I had caught his name. He spoke with an accent that my husband thought was Italian and I thought was Hispanic. Then googled mango pepper, having found that someone besides us in Illinois used this term, and one word study site mentioned that this usage goes back to the 1600’s or earlier, discussed the pickled connection mentioned in the above article, and then quoted a British publication from 1800’s advising you to fill the mango with pickled cabbage – which is precisely what we did in central Illinois in the 1950’s, and canned them! I have my mother’s recipe if anyone wants it. But amazed that that recipe from the 1800’s had carried forward. Afte I left that area and lived in oregon where no one called a green pepper a mango, I began to call it what other people called it and would know what I meant. Sooo interesting!

  • MeMe

    I grew up in Cincinnati, OH and now live in Northern KY. No one I knew ever called them mangoes. I did not know this until a couple years ago (I’m in my mid 30’s now). It is not everyone in the midwest. I feel that people need to learn and use the correct names for items.

  • Grew up in southern Ohio..our family called green peppers mangoes as well..didn’t realize until i moved west that mangoes were fruit! My family stuffed the “mangoes’ with rice and gr beef and tomato sauce, and also fixed them with cabbage in a vinegar, sugar dressing. Everyone i knew from there called them mangoes..Interesting article!

  • Lewis

    I’m from Ohio, and it’s pretty rare for anyone to call a pepper a mango, I don’t think I’ve heard anyone under 80 ever call it that. I don’t think it’s popular much anymore then again, I’ve only really lived in the central and eastern portion of the state, so it could be a western ohio thing.

  • KentuckyFriedTony

    My step-mother was from Arkansas and moved to north central Indiana in her late teens. She always referred to green bell peppers as “mangoes”, so us kids did too!

    She made a great stuffed mango (bell pepper) with rice and meat stuffed inside and baked.

    I have lived in northern Kentucky near Cincinnati for years. Until about 20 years ago, I never even knew what an Asian/Indian mango was! I like them very much – especially the juice.

    To this day I still have to try not to call a green pepper a mango to avoid confusion.

  • […] is considered a moral fault, a sign of laziness. And so, following a 30-second internet search, I found out why “mango” means “green pepper.” It’s actually a fascinating story, […]

  • Ken

    I grew up in north central PENNSYLVANIA (Williamsport), and I thought bell peppers were mangoes. I moved to Texas after high school and found out what mangoes were.
    I told someone about having sauted mangoes and onions on a cheese steak sub, and they were like, “MANGOES?”
    I was just transcribing an old handwritten recipe book from the ’20s – 40’s that was my grandmother’s. I came across a canning recipe for sandwich spread that included the ingredient: “1 1/2 doz. mangoes (red & green both)” HA! I finally googled it and came here.

  • Candace

    I grew up in the Cincinnati area, I’m nearly sixty years old now. My mother always referred to green peppers as mangoes when I was growing up. We had them stuffed with rice, meat and tomato sauce. They were sliced and put on veggie trays every holiday, had them in salads and a whole lot of other dishes. When I grew up and got a place of my own, started buying my own food, I noticed the store always calling them green peppers, that’s before we could get red, yellow and orange peppers. It took years before I got my mother to call them green peppers. I never used the term while my son was growing up. Probably why younger than 40 never heard it. We all had to change wording after the real mango came to town.

  • Dust Bunny

    My father is from Iowa but I grew up out west and never heard this. However, my boss, who has lived in Texas for decades but is an Indiana native, mentioned recently that he had grown up calling bell peppers “mangoes”. He’s 60 at the most, so this terminology is apparently alive and well.

  • Becky

    I have never heard of anyone in the Midwest calling a bell pepper a Mango besides Ohio.

  • Stickler

    I’ve lived for many years in the Vanderburgh/Warrick County area of Southern Indiana. I’ve heard several people here refer to green peppers as mangoes. I always thought it was a Southern Indiana thing, much like ‘I seen it;’ ‘I done it;’ and ‘It don’t matter.’ Thanks, Word Detective, for the history lesson.

  • Kelli

    I grew up in southern Indiana and my Mother all her peers and older generation called green peppers mangos. Didn’t know what a real mango was until i went away to college. I never knew how they came up with it. The 1st commentary explains alot. Don’t hear younger generation using that term. It is disappearing from the language.

  • Amanda

    I live in east central Illinois, where my grandmother was also raised. She is the first to have used the term “mango” in my presence, when referring to a green pepper. So, the supposition that this usage of the word is foreign to central Illinois is incorrect.

  • Eric

    I live in central Indiana, am 43 years old, and still have to remind myself to refer to them as “green or bell peppers” when outside of this part of the country. Almost all local summer vegetable markets and a few larger chains still advertise them as “mangoes”. Just to annoy my non-Hoosier friends I insist on calling them by the only name I knew them by until the age of 20.

  • Rene

    I grew up in southern Indiana. At the time that I moved to Florida about 30 years ago, most people still referred to bell peppers as mangoes. I think I was in high school before I knew that a mango was something different – but still wasn’t sure quite what.

    I have a couple of good stories about the confusion this caused with non-Hoosiers.

    One is about a neighbor who moved from elsewhere telling us about trying to buy pepper plants for his garden. The lady in the garden center kept trying to sell him mangoes; but he wanted peppers, not fruit. Eventually, her comment was, “Yeah. Mango peppers.”

    The other is about a retired school teacher that I met down here asking me about the “vintage” cookbook of recipes from rural Indiana that called for mangoes in some very surprising recipes. When I suggested that she re-read the recipes substituting the words bell pepper for mango, the light bulb came on!

    Then again, this part of Indiana is the same area where chili is a soup and has spaghetti as one of the ingredient, and goulash is like home made Beefaroni.

  • Jody M

    My grandmother and great-grandmother in east-Central (Vermilion CO) Illinois always called bell peppers mangoes. Their family came from SE Ohio in 1842 and I’m guessing they brought that vocabulary with them. I never heard anyone outside my family use this term.

  • Teresa

    Becky, hope you can see “mango” referring to peppers is NOT just an Ohio thing! I grew up in NE Indiana and everyone I knew referred to green peppers as mangos. However, my other half grew up in Indianapolis and says he had never heard green peppers called mangos. We now live in Dayton and I don’t see green peppers advertised as mangos or referred to as such in church cookbooks or printed recipes.

    In my part of Indiana we ate stuffed mangos for supper and perhaps we had cheese toasties and a glass of pop for lunch!


    I am from Mt Carmel in the coal region of Penn. near Harrisburg and we called green peppers mangos also.

    • Catherine J Belles

      I lived in the Scranton, PA area all my life (now a senior citizen), when growing up everyone said Mango for bell peppers. It’s not that way now, I think we all know the difference. Once in a while my kids and/or some friends will have fun talking about our area’s oddities long gone. Altho, not all of them. We can discuss Texas Weiners.

  • My parents are from Dayton Oh and all our life even after moving to Mercer Co. Oh We called green Peppers Mangoes.
    I mentioned this to my eldest daughter and she goggled the term and found many interesting locations of the usage. I did not use the term while raising my children;as she was surprised.
    No; they are not referred to as mangoes in our local Darke Co. papers either.

  • Mike

    A few years ago I was in a north-central Ohio grocery store and saw a display of mangoes labeled “Fruit Mangoes”. Apparently that old usage I remember from my grandmother hasn’t died out yet.

  • Julie

    My husband and I both were born and raised in the Dayton, Ohio area. I have never in my life heard a green (bell) pepper referred to as a mango, either by family or friends. My husband, on the other hand,remembers some of his older relatives calling green peppers mangoes. At dinner he insisted that green peppers had another name and I thought he was crazy. Thanks for proving me wrong! :)

  • Jeremy

    I’m from Detroit and I’d never heard this before today. I made a salsa that I took to work. A coworker asked me for the recipe which includes mangoes (the fruit). She asked me if it was a fruit mango or a green pepper?! Of course I was so confused and had to get on here to see what that was all about and now I know.

  • Patricia

    My mother and father both grew up in southern Indiana. Green bell peppers were always Mango’s at our house. I was in my teens before I knew there was a different fruit called a Mango. ha!

    My husband just took some of the garden bounty to work. One of his co-workers said ‘These are really huge Mango’s!’, ha! It always causes a ‘word’ discussion. :)

  • John

    in the late 70s I was in Springboro, OH (between Dayton and Cincinnati) and ordered a shish kabob at a local restaurant, simply because ‘mango’ was included in the list of ingredients. When it came, I asked the waiter why there wasn’t any mango on the skewer and he said there was, I said there wasn’t and he pointed to the green pepper and said “right there.” I had never heard of that before and laughed because I thought he was punting an answer. Later I asked around and discovered that, indeed, green peppers were known as mangos. The regionalism still makes me smile.

  • […] in the days before refrigeration. This included mangoes (the orange, sweet kind.) According to The Word Detective, people in England and the colonies confused the name of the fruit and thought it referred to the […]

  • I married a woman from Southeast Ohio, and we have raised two children in California. Twenty years ago when our children were young we were visiting Ohio and one of my wife’s relatives asked the kids what they would like to drink for lunch. My daughter requested a Snapple, and when asked what flavor she replied “mango.” The relative was aghast – could there be bell pepper flavored Snapple in California? But my wife simply groaned and rolled her eyes. She knew that this Ohioism would probably enter the family story collection forever. And she was right.

  • Matt D.

    I grew up and still live in Eastern Central Ohio. Tuscarawas County! When I was a kid, a lot of the older people selling veggies from their gardens would have signs in their yards saying, “Tomatoes, Mangoes, and Peppers For Sale.” We all knew mangoes were green peppers, and peppers were banana peppers. To this day I still call them mangoes. It’s kind of like leaving our area and asking if they carry trail bologna at the grocery store.

  • Missy

    I grew up in eastern Ohio. My mom always called green peppers mangos. I never knew a mango was actually a fruit until I was an adult. I think it’s the older generation that still calls them mango.

  • Lancaster Ohio mama

    Growing up in central Ohio, my mama and daddy always called green peppers “mangos”. I never knew them by any other name until I moved to Florida for a couple years and found out what a mango really was. I still call them that.

  • Catherine J Belles

    Living in the Scranton, PA area all my life, green peppers were always called mangos. Now my friends and family are talking about Texas Weiners & where to find them.

    • Nancy Fray

      I grew up in Old Forge, Pa (pizza capital of the world) and we always called green peppers mangoes. My daughters found this quite interesting as a few of my grandchildren love mangoes–the fruit. One of my daughters just sent me this.. They always got a kick out of my calling green peppers mangoes. In all my younger days I never heard of the fruit called mango.

  • CK

    Grew up in Lancaster OH. Heard green peppers called mangos by most of our neighbors and friends. My folks called them green peppers though. They were from northern OH). So in Ohio maybe “mango” is just south central and southeaster thing ?

  • emipie

    Both of my parents’ families are from Indiana (Michiana and close to Muncie) and they all say “mango” for bell pepper. My maternal grandmother once told my mother (in the 50s) that they called them mangoes but they weren’t really. My mom asked “What is a mango” and my grandmother answered “I don’t know”.

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