Which Came First: Orange the Color or Orange the Fruit?

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istock

Reader Erica wrote in with a question about oranges. Is the fruit named for its color, or is the color named for the fruit?

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.

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February 8, 2012 - 11:48am
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