Zhaba Zhournal
Monday, November 10, 2003 
Etymology of the day 
I finally got around to looking up something I've occasionally wondered. It turns out that oranges are not called oranges because they are orange; the color orange is called orange because it's the color of an orange.

The word for the fruit and the color first appear in English in the 14th century; "orange" as a color first appeared in 1542, according to the dictionaries I have on hand. The name for oranges, the fruit, is "narangah" in Sanskrit; it became "narang" in Persian and "naranj" in Arabic, and then followed the Arabs into Moorish Spain. In Anglo-French it was corrupted into "orrange" and finally made it into English as "orange." (Some people say the corruption was in English—"a naranj" becoming "an orange"—but not all sources have that.)

It took me a while to figure out where the name of the House of Orange, the royal family of the Netherlands, and of the William of "William and Mary," came from. It looks like it's from the French town of Orange, so called because it was the center of the orange trade. Hendrik III of the Netherlands, of the House of Nassau-Dillenburg, married Claudia of Chalon and Orange; thereafter the family was known as the House of Orange-Nassau-Dillenburg. (That's according to this page on the history of the House of Orange.)

For a whole heap of the etymology of words for colors, check out The Colour of Words.

One question I still have: how did people refer to the color orange before they had the word orange? Did they describe it in terms of other orange things—fire, amber—or as a combination of other colors, "reddish-yellow" or "yellow-red"? Or did they just not call it anything at all?

Middle Egyptian (the hieroglyphic kind) only has four words for colors, that I remember: green, which covers green and blue; red, which covers red and yellow; and black and white. The Mediterranean Sea was called "Wadj Wer," the Great Green. I don't remember what they called the sky, or lapis lazuli, or anything like that. (It's been a while since I studied Egyptian.)

Gosh, I used up my entire lunch break. I'd best get back to work. Perhaps I'll have an orange later in the afternoon...

[ at 2:07 PM • by Abby • permalink  ]

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