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I remember reading in high school that the word la banana is actually a different word in several different countries. Is this true? If so what are the other similar/equivalent Spanish words for la banana?

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According to WordReference, plátano is the standard/neutral Spanish word for the English "banana." Other regional words include:

  • banana - used in Argentina, Colombia, Ecuador, Paraguay, and Uruguay to refer to a banana (the plant or the fruit)

  • banano - used in Central America, Bolivia, and Colombia to refer to a variety of banana

  • cambur - used in Venezuela to refer to a similar fruit to bananas

It's a bit more complicated than simple translation, because there are several plants that are could be classified as bananas (herbaceous plants of the genus Musa) that are found in many Spanish-speaking countries. The English Wikipedia page for "Banana" mentions:

In popular culture and commerce, "banana" usually refers to soft, sweet "dessert" bananas. By contrast, Musa cultivars with firmer, starchier fruit are called plantains or "cooking bananas". The distinction is purely arbitrary and the terms 'plantain' and 'banana' are sometimes interchangeable depending on their usage.

The Spanish Wikipedia page groups several varieties of plants together and mentions that they can be called: plátano, banana, banano, cambur, topocho o guineo.

As a specific country example, in Nicaragua, banano means banana (the sweet kind) and plátano means plantain (the starchy kind).

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In Spain if you say "plátano" you refer to the normal banana fruit, but if you say "banana" you refer to a variety of banana which is bigger than the usual banana. –  Javi Dec 28 '11 at 11:28
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And, in Spain too (I don't know in other contries) the green banana to eat cooked it's called "Plátano macho" –  Laura Dec 28 '11 at 14:42
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In some countries, "plátano" can be used to refer to the same fruit as "banana". In other countries, "plátano" is used only to refer to a plantain. A plantain is slightly different from a regular banana, and is used somewhat differently.

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In Ecuador we say:

  • Guineo.- It is what you call a banana in english.
  • Verde.- A cousin of "guineo" that you use for cooking salty dishes, you never eat it raw. Its name come from its green colour. Sometimes it is called "Plátano", or "Plátano verde".
  • Maduro.- The same as "Verde" but after it has become yellow and black, you use it for cooking sweet dishes and normally you do not eat it raw.
  • Orito .- Another cousin of "guineo" but it is really small and with a very particular taste.
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for "row" read "raw" = "uncooked". –  BrianA May 28 '12 at 17:59
    
just corrected, thanks ! –  Sergio May 28 '12 at 18:01
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