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Sometimes, the names attached to plants give hints as to their origins. The Sanskrit word 'tila' and its various transformations into other languages on the subcontinent, have been seen as evidence supporting the antiquity of the crop, sesame, in India. In a similar way, the transformations of the Malay word 'ubi', for yam, through various cultures, have been taken by some investigators as evidence for hypothesised dispersal routes for the Asian yam.

Rumphius believed that the Indonesian name 'kacang botor' (kacang 'babator' in modern Amboina) for winged bean was derived from an Arabic word meaning 'lobe'. Some modern commentators have doubted this.

On linguistic grounds, the cultivation of winged bean in India was thought to be a relatively late phenomenon, but the suggestion that the Tamil name 'morisu avarai' might point to Mauritius as a source of Indian winged bean is scarcely more convincing than that the English name 'Goa bean' might indicate a Goan origin.

Without much effort, we can compile from the published literature a list of over 30 distinct names that have been attributed to winged bean in New Guinea. Yet a similar list for sweet potato would include more than 100 names. Lists like these often include generic names along with item-specific names at different levels of generalisation. Without detailed analysis, such lists are not of great value in identifying crop origins.

There is more work to be done in tracing the various names that have been given to winged bean. They could hold clues as to origins.

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