From time to time your Guru likes to go off on tangents about our lovely English language. This time, she’s combining two of her favorite things: the origin of words, and metanalysis. What’s metanalysis, you ask? Read on…
ORANGE is such a lovely word, for so many reasons. Some of these include the fact that it can be a noun OR an adjective, it’s self-descriptive, and, best of all, it doesn’t rhyme with anything. (Well, except for the word “sporange,” which is a rare alternative form of “sporangium,” a botanical term for part of a fern—and have you ever read a poem about parts of ferns?)
So, back to our question: Where did ORANGE come from?
It all started with Sanskrit; the tasty, juicy fruit we all enjoy is called NARANJ in that language. Sanskrit was one of the main languages spoken in ancient India. Indians traded with Arabs, so the word then passed into Arabic as NARANJAH. In turn, the Spanish, who were ruled by North African Arabs, were introduced to the fruit, and the word turned into NARANJA in Spanish.
The English, embracing the fruit along with as much Spanish gold as they could lay their hands on, called it a NARANJ. Since words ending in J are fairly uncommon in English, the spelling quickly morphed to NARANGE.
Now, remember metanalysis? It’s one of your Guru’s favorite occurrences in language. It
happens when a word is mis-heard so often that it actually becomes the accepted word (an apron used to be a napron, for example). So, A NARANGE quickly became AN ARANGE.
Over time, the A morphed into an O, and hey, presto! Time for breakfast!