Origin of the Word: Orange

Orange squaresFrom the color of carved pumpkins to the scent of a succulent citrus fruit, the word orange triggers memories that satisfy the eyes and the nose. The word we use to describe orange, however, started out only as a way to describe the fruit.

The original word for orange first made its appearance in Sanskrit as naranga. Sanskrit was the ancient language of India, with roots that go back to the 4th millennium BCE. Naranga wasn’t used to describe the color; rather it was used for the familiar citrus fruit, which was native to northern India.

From there, the term became narang in Persian, a language spoken by the ancestors of modern-day Iranians. According to etymologists, or word researchers, the term finally entered common European usage when the Moors, who were Arabs from Africa, settled in medieval Spain.

So what happened to the n at the beginning of the word? Etymologists believe that when the word came to English from French or Spanish, the English dropped the n when they did not use the original article which preceded it. As a result, the French une narange became, simply, orange.

Although it was used to describe the fruit, orange wasn’t used to describe color until the middle of the 16th century. Experts argue that because very few things in the natural world are orange, there was no need for the word. Instead, writers substituted other terms, such as gold or amber.

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