Ground white peppercorn is used in Chinese and Thai cuisine, but also in salads, cream sauces, light-colored sauces, and mashed potatoes (where black pepper would visibly stand out). White pepper has a different flavor from black pepper; it lacks certain compounds present in the outer layer of the drupe.
The two best types of white peppercorns are Sarawat and Muntok. Keres Spices currently has organic Sarawat available.
The word “pepper” has its roots in the Tamil word for long pepper, pippali. Ancient Greek and Latin turned pippali into the Greek πέπερι peperi and then into the Latin piper, which was used by the Romans to refer both to black pepper and long pepper, as the Romans erroneously believed that both of these spices were derived from the same plant.
Today’s “pepper” derives from the Old English pipor. and from Latin which was the source of Romanian piper, Italian pepe, Dutch peper, German Pfeffer, French poivre, and other similar forms.
In the 16th century, pepper started referring to the unrelated New World chili pepper as well. “Pepper” was used in a figurative sense to mean “spirit” or “energy” at least as far back as the 1840s; in the early 20th century, this was shortened to pep.