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A friend of mine has been reading up about a durum wheat variety called "tumminia". He wrote about it here.

Does tumminia have any meaning that might help us to understand the background of this wheat variety?

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  • please note that I added a major update to my answer Feb 13 '14 at 13:10
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I am not aware, nor are the dictionaries I have checked, of such a word in Italian; it seems to be a proper name. Italian Wikipedia, which has always to be taken with a pinch of salt, says «Tumminìa - cultivar di grano siciliano a maturazione trimestrale (dal greco τρεσ μηναιός), con il quale si prepara il pane nero di Castelvetrano». The Greek words given are similar to, but not correctly so, Ancient Greek; so they are either misspelt or Modern Greek. In any case, they should mean something like “trimestral”.

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  • Thanks for your comments on the Greek. The final alternative name from Walter also makes that connection clearer.
    – jcherfas
    Feb 12 '14 at 8:18
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In Palermo my parents-in-law often buy pane di tumminìa (tumminia bread), which they also call pane di farina di tumminìa (tumminia wheat bread).

Wikipedia says (in the disambiguation page):

Tumminìa - cultivar di grano siciliano a maturazione trimestrale (dal greco τρεσ μηναιός), con il quale si prepara il pane nero di Castelvetrano.

Translation:

Tumminia - a cultivar of Sicilian wheat that ripens in three months (from Greek τρεσ μηναιός), used in the preparation of the black bread of Castelvetrano

It's rather common for words which are peculiar to the Sicilian dialect(s) to derive from Greek. I'm not able to check the Greek above, and I could not find a reliable confirmation of this etymology, but from what I can tell the phonological distance from Latin ("tres menses") would only be slightly greater. Apparently, alternative spellings are timminia and trimminia.

The family name Tumminia occurs mainly in Palermo and in the surroundings of Castelvetrano, as you can see here. Sicilian family names are often locality names (and do not denote Jewish origin as in most of Italy), but this is not the case here, since there is no locality by this name. I presume it to be an occupational surname.


UPDATE

I got the following information from my father-in-law:

  • Tumminia wheat (furmentu di tumminìa in Sicilian) is also called timilìa, although he thinks that few people know this. He did not mention neither timminìa nor trimminìa.
  • Tùmmino or tùmminu (I'm always adding accents for clarity - they are not wrong but usually not written) means two things in Sicilian:

When I observed that the alternative name timilìa appears to confirm the possible derivation from the pair tumminu and tomolo (or tumulo), he was skeptical, but to me his skepticism is a further confirmation that there is no artificial derivation going on here. I think that the derivation from Greek may well have been made up recently.

He explained to me that tumminia wheat used to be grown when it was clear that a crop of regular wheat was lost for some reason, because it would still be harvested in time (because of its fast ripening). The downside is its low production, but it has upsides too, like, when turned into tumminia bread, also called Castelvetrano bread in Palermo, its peculiar taste and its preservability.

In my opinion, furmentu di tumminìa could mean something like "wheat of fielding" (I'm inventing fielding here, in the sense of "using the field in another way, instead of wasting it because of a crop failure").

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    Many thanks. Odd that some of the genebank accessions with that name come from Spain, but probably the "three month" connection is the good one.
    – jcherfas
    Feb 12 '14 at 8:03
  • So interesting; thanks for pursuing this with your father-in-law. So it seems English is not the only language that suffers from the "folk etymologies," that sound plausible but may be wrong.
    – jcherfas
    Feb 14 '14 at 14:08
  • @jcherfas: exactly. And while I'm here, I'll add that it looks like tumminia could in the end derive from the Arabic word thumn, meaning "one eighth". I'll update my answer later Feb 14 '14 at 16:51
  • @jcherfas, actually I have been warned that in Sicily it has happened that Arabic words have been used for pre-existing Latin or Greek words, like, probably, in the case of the most ancient street of Palermo, called il Càssaro, Arabic al Qasr (fort, palace), Latin castrum (camp, fort). I'll gather some more information before updating my answer Feb 16 '14 at 15:38
  • Golly; this is becoming very interesting. I can't thank you enough for all this work.
    – jcherfas
    Feb 17 '14 at 7:08

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