Today’s word, ki•shu•im, zucchini is an etymological nightmare for any linguist. Ki•shu•im has changed meanings several times, and if we look at the writing of the sages of the Talmud during the Babylonian exile you’ll learn that they too were a little confused. Some linguists claim that the biblical ki•shu•im actually meant ‘melons.’
“We remember the fish, which we ate in Egypt for nothing; the cucumbers, and the melons, and the leeks, and the onions, and the garlic”
As you can see, the King James translation made it even more confusing by attributing the meaning ‘cucumbers’ to ki•shu•im. Cucumber in Hebrew is ‘me•la•fe•fon,’ which comes from two Greek words: ‘melo,’ apple, and ‘fefon.’ The Talmud provides some clues. For example, the Jerusalem Talmud writes of a sage who said that if one plants an apple seed with a watermelon, the two will merge and a mela•fe•fon will grow. While this is not true, the continuation is interesting: “That is why in Greek they call these melopepon,” the Talmud says. As opposed to the first part of the sage’s words, the second part has some truth to it. “Melafefon” does come from the Greek. It is made up of two Greek words: melos (apple) + pepon (‘pumpkin’). It is not exactly clear what the word denoted in ancient Greek, though. This strange triangle is supported by Wikipedia’s definition: “The word melon derives from Latin melopepo, which is the latinization of the Greek μηλοπέπων (mēlopepon), meaning ‘melon’, itself a compound of μῆλον (mēlon), ‘apple' + πέπων (pepōn), amongst others ‘a kind of gourd or melon.'” The confusion was carried on to the 19th century. During the early stages of modern Hebrew, cucumbers were called ‘ki•shu•im.’
The melon’s connection to ki•shu•im (zucchini) is supported also by the biblical rule of proximity (two words appearing next to each other or in reflective verses in biblical poetry, where the second part of the verse is always a repetition of the first part with other words). In Numbers 11:5, the ki•shu•im are followed by ava•ti•chim (watermelons), which may support the theory that these are actually melons.* See warning below.
* Warning!: Don’t ever try to order a melon as a dessert in an Israeli restaurant by using the biblical name ki•shu•im. If you do, you are most likely to receive pan-fried zucchini, which, admittedly, tastes somewhat different from what you meant.