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Al ver esta pregunta he encontrado la palabra gonchu, que aparece definida como

  1. m. borra (‖ hez o sedimento turbio de los líquidos).

y borra

  1. f. Hez o sedimento espeso que forman la tinta, el aceite, etc.

Por lo que he encontrado en el NTLLE, esta acepción de "borra" figura ya en el Diccionario de Autoridades de 1726 ("Se llaman también las heces, y lo mas grossèro de las cosas líquidas: como del vino,tinta, azéite,&c."), mientras que "gonchu" no figura en el diccionario de la lengua hasta 1984, y no hay ninguna indicación adicional acerca de su origen, uso, etc.

Otros recursos que he consultado (Wikipedia, Wiktionary, etimologías de chile) han dado un resultado igualmente negativo.

¿De dónde proviene la palabra "gonchu"? ¿Tiene un uso regional o general?

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A good place to start with this word (or at least where my Googling had me start) is page 147 in Julio Figueroa G.’s book Vocabulario etimolójico de nombres chilenos (1903), which talks about chilenismos. The very first entry is:

Aconcharse   del Araucano Conchu Borra o sedimento

True, that’s a slightly different word (conchu, not gonchu), but it seems too close in meaning and form not to be related.

Aconcharse is in DLE and is derived from yet another slightly differently hispanicised form of the same substrate word, concho:

concho1, cha
(Del quechua qonchu, cunchu 'heces', 'posos'.)

  1. adj. Ec. Del color de las heces de la chicha o de la cerveza. Una mula concha.
  2. m. Bol., Chile, Col., Cuba, Ec., Pan., Perú y R. Dom. Poso, sedimento, restos de la comida.

The forms mentioned here are in god-knows-what transcription scheme, but I can’t find any exact hits for any of them. Note also that the language of origin is different: Quechua as opposed to Araucano (which we nowadays call Mapuche). Quechua and Mapuche are not related (Mapuche is a language isolate). Either one of them borrowed the word from the other; or either Figueroa or DLE gives the wrong source language.

Which of the two is the correct interpretation, I do not know. But it seems that qunchu is the Quechua word for yeast; specifically, aqha qunchu is saccharomyces cerevisiae, a particular type of yeast that has been used in brewing and wine-making since ancient times and is commonly known as brewer’s yeast in English. When making wine and beer, the yeast that hastens the fermentation process also creates a layer of sediment at the bottom of the vat, known in English as lees (I don’t think Spanish has a specific word here—just posos/heces de vino/cerveza), or trubs in beer-making.

According to AULEX (an online Quechua-Spanish dictionary), qunchu also means ‘dregs’ in Quechua itself, like in Spanish.

I’m not familiar with any etymological dictionaries of Quechua, but my guess would be that the original meaning is ‘(brewer’s) yeast’, which was then extended within Quechua to also refer to the lees/trubs at the bottom of the vat where alcohol was fermented. It was this latter meaning which was borrowed from Quechua into Spanish as concho (and perhaps conchu and/or cunchu as well). Or possibly from Quechua into Mapuche, and then from Mapuche into Spanish. Or possibly both.

The Spanish variant that begins with /ɡ/ instead of /k/ (i.e. ⟨gonchu⟩ instead of ⟨concho/conchu/cunchu⟩) is a bit of a mystery to me, though. Neither Quechua nor Mapuche possesses voiced consonants, so whichever of the two is the immediate source of the Spanish word, the development /k/ → /ɡ/ happened within Spanish itself. I am not aware of any pattern or reason why this voicing should take place, but it seems that it did.

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  • How interesting! Upon first seeing the question I thought it would be a misspelt version of gochu, used regionally in Spain to mean pig (which could have some popular connection with heces) – user0721090601 Dec 10 '16 at 15:24
  • @user Could be an indication that the variant in g is indeed newer—the complete lack of an etymological note is odd, though, I'll give you that. – Janus Bahs Jacquet Dec 10 '16 at 19:52

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