Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Apples and Oranges May Compare After All

The word orange can't have anything in common with the Spanish naranja (for 'orange'), can it? The words look and sound so different. Actually, they share a historical connection.

As a word, orange came to the English language in the 15th century ultimately from Persian through French and Italian. The Persian original, nāranj or nārang, shows the connection between the English and Spanish words. The connotation between the fruit and the color orange was also formed centuries ago, in Middle French, and the form of the word changed under the influence of the word or ('gold'; in Latin aurum). This fascinating tidbit was brought to you by An Etymological Dictionary of the English Language, shelved at REF 422 SKE.

There are other European languages where the word for oranges is a compound formed basically of references to apples and China. For example, in German the word is die Apfelsine and in Danish appelsin.

If you know to look for it, all these words preserve a minute detail of the history of citrus fruit in Europe and the trade routes to the Far East.

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