blood oranges by eric wert

The Etymology of Oranges: Which Came First, the Word or the Fruit?

Orange is the new… word. Seriously, it’s only been around since the Renaissance. Before that, English speakers were making do with the term ‘yellow-red,’ or even referring to orange things as simply ‘red.’ The word orange was only invented following the fruit’s arrival in Europe. 


In their article on the subject, Atlas Obscura notes that “the roots of the word “orange” come from the Sanskrit term for the orange tree: nāraṅga. Traders traveled with the nāraṅga across the Middle East, and it became the Arabic naaranj. When Islamic rule spread to southern Italy and Spain in the Middle Ages, the orange tree made it to Europe.”

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The word became naranja in Spanish and arancia in Italian, losing the initial ‘n’ in both it’s English and French incarnations. The word ‘orange’ had infiltrated many European languages by the 1300s, and had begun to be used to refer to the fruit.


Atlas Obscura comments that according to the Oxford English Dictionary, ‘orange’ began to be used to refer to such a color in the context of clothing around the 16th century. Around this time, sailors from Portugal brought nicer tasting oranges from China to Europe. Interestingly, ‘China apple’ “is still a synonym for orange in a number of languages, including Dutch and Ukrainian…Even in China, the orange’s likely birthplace, the characters for the fruit and the color are the same.” 


So there you have it: your little language evolution tidbit for the day. 


orange gif

Via Dribbble


Featured Image Via Eric Wert