I have heard that banana is one of the few words that is the same in almost all languages (I think even in Japanese!). However, I learnt a long time ago that banana is plátano in Spanish. Well, that seems pretty simple, doesn’t it? But as you already know, things are never as easy as they seem, and the word banana is one of the most confusing words in Spanish, at least if you live in Puerto Rico…
If we start with the Spanish spoken in Spain:
plátano is a banana that comes from the Canary Islands, el plátano de Canarias (according to O) and is smaller than the “normal” Chiquita-type bananas.
banana is actually what we would also call a banana.
In Puerto Rico the terminology is different:
plátano is a plantain, i.e a big, [usually] green fruit which is not a banana even if it looks like one… It is not eaten raw, but can be sliced, flattened and fried into tostones or mashed and made into mofongo.
guineo is a banana, but usually much smaller than the “Chiquita-style” banana most of us are used to. I guess that there are different types of bananas – big or small, just like other fruits such as apples…
banana is not used as a word.
In other parts of the Spanish-speaking world, the different words are used for different fruits, depending on where you are: for example in Costa Rica (not to be confused with Puerto Rico!) and in Nicaragua bananas are bananos (NB. masculine, not feminine), in Argentina they only use bananas and in Mexico they have a whole range of different plátanos: plátano tabasco (the normal banana), plátano dominico (smaller banana), and plátano macho (I guess plantain). (I found this information on this forum for those of you who understand Spanish and want to learn more about the different terminology)
My conclusion is as follows: Spaniards don’t have a word for plantain* and the Puerto Ricans never talk about bananas!? Please correct me if I am wrong!
By the way, I totally confused my Spanish teacher when I tried to explain how the Spaniards talk about bananas. And I don’t blame him, I am quite confused myself 🙂
*) Enligt Jordbruksverkets ordlista heter plantain mjölbanan på svenska.