The first oranges weren’t orange

The first oranges weren’t orange:

What came first, the orange or…orange? Did someone just make the un-creative decision to name the citrus fruit after its color?

Or did the color get its name because of the fruit? In terms of perplexing origin stories, this one is right up there with the chicken vs. the egg.

Luckily, though, this one is much more easily solved!

The original oranges from Southeast Asia were a tangerine-pomelo hybrid, and they were actually green.

In fact, oranges in warmer regions like Vietnam and Thailand still stay green through maturity.

As the word evolved, it eventually came to mean the fruit, not just the orange tree.

Old French adapted the Arabic word nāranj as “pomme d’orenge” (“the fruit from the orange tree”) or just “orenge.”


Speakers of Middle English adopted the phrase; the Middle English equivalent “pume orange” dates back to the 13th century AD.

The word didn’t come to describe a color until almost 200 years later, making the fruit the clear winner.

In 1512, a description of the color using the word “orange” appeared—in a rather strange place.

According to the Oxford English Dictionary, the use of the word first appeared in…a will.


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