The word chili comes to English from Mexican Spanish. It’s originally a Nahuatl word for the capsicum or red pepper.

It appears in Mexican Spanish in the 16th century and by 1662 appeared in Henry Stubbe’s The Indian nectar, or a Discourse Concerning Chocolata:

Some Pepper called Chille...was put in.

The idea that the word is somehow related to the country of Chile is very old and very false. In 1631, botanist Jacobus Bontius was the first to confuse the two. The name of the country Chile is probably from the Araucanian chili, meaning cold or winter. The Araucanian word is unrelated to the English word chilly.

(Sources: Oxford English Dictionary, 3rd Edition; Room’s Place-Names of the World)

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