Posted by: Jack Henry | March 15, 2022

Editor’s Corner: Orange and Oranges

Good morning, folks!

The other day, the editors received this comic strip and a challenge to deal with it in Editor’s Corner. I’m always up for a challenge, and I wanted to know the answer to this question: Which came first, orange the color, or orange the fruit?

An article from Mental Floss gets right to it:

The citrus definitely got named first. The earliest recorded use of orange the fruit in English is from the 1300s and came to us from the Old French orenge, adapted from the Arabic nāranj, from the Persian nārang, from the Sanskrit nāranga ("orange tree"). The Sanskrit word’s origin is unclear, but it might come from a Dravidian word meaning "fragrant."

The word’s use as a color name doesn’t crop up for another 200 years, in the early 1500s. English speakers probably didn’t have a specific name for the color until the fruit was widely available in their markets and inspired one. Before then, linguists believe people generally referred to orange as "yellow-red," ġeolurēad in Old English.

Noting the two different directions the word took (orenge and naranj/naranga) and having taken French and Spanish, I decided to look at what other countries near France and Spain called orange and oranges. The closer to France and northern Europe, most countries have a variant of orenge:

· oranje (Dutch)

· orange (French)

· orange (German)

· oransje (Norwegian)
· orange (Swedish)
· oranžová (Slovak) [KC – Okay, not northern or near France, but the Slovak in me liked this name.]
The closer to Spain and Portugal, the countries stick closer to naranj/naranga:
· taronja (Catalan)
· laranja (Portuguese)
· naranja (Spanish)
In between orange and naranja, is Italy with arancia.

The Online Etymology Dictionary reported a history of the word orange similar to Mental Floss, but it also included some interesting information about the fruit itself, so I thought I’d pass that on too.

The tree’s original range probably was northern India. The Persian orange, grown widely in southern Europe after its introduction in Italy 11c., was bitter; sweet oranges were brought to Europe 15c. from India by Portuguese traders and quickly displaced the bitter variety, but only Modern Greek still seems to distinguish the bitter (nerantzi) from the sweet (portokali "Portuguese") orange. [KC –Greeks use the word
portokali for the color orange; next door, the Turks use portokal.]

Portuguese, Spanish, Arab, and Dutch sailors planted citrus trees along trade routes to prevent scurvy. On his second voyage in 1493, Christopher Columbus brought the seeds of oranges, lemons and citrons to Haiti and the Caribbean. (They were)…introduced in Florida (along with lemons) in 1513 by Spanish explorer Juan Ponce de Leon.

And that’s what happens when you present a comic strip to an editor.

Kara Church

Pronouns: she/her

Technical Editor, Advisory

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