Were “oranges” once called “noranges”?

Photo by audreyjm529 - CC-BY

Photo by audreyjm529 - CC-BY

A frequently-repeated etymology of the fruit that we call an “orange” goes like this:

The fruit was not grown in England, and when the dock-hands unloaded the cargo ships they heard the fruit referred to by its Spanish name: naranja. From this it became known as “a norange”, but over time this became “an orange” which flowed off the tongue more smoothly.

That makes a good story, and good stories tend to spread. And indeed there is a process of language evolution called re-bracketing, where word boundaries change over time.

But good stories are not always true; sometimes they are just urban legends. And that’s the case with “noranges”.

A re-bracketing does appear to have taken place, but not in English. The original Old French word for an orange—une norenge—became re-bracketed as une orange, and from there the word came into English as an orange. Beyond Old French, the word probably originates from nāraṅga, the Sanskrit word for “orange tree”.

Genuine re-bracketings have occurred with other English words. For example, an adder (snake) was a naddre in Middle English, an apron was a napron, an auger was a nauger, a newt was an eute, a nickname was an eke name, and an umpire was a noumpere. But an orange was never a norange in English.

The color orange was named after the fruit. So how was that color described before the fruit was known in England? The Old English name for the color is geoluhread—literally yellow-red.

Related questions:

  • What are the different ways to prepare and eat an orange?What are the different ways to prepare and eat an orange?
    An orange is not the easiest fruit to prepare and eat without making a mess, and many ways have been devised to go about it. Bite and peel Without a knife your options are limited. You need to rem...
  • What is a split infinitive, and why is it bad to ever split one?What is a split infinitive, and why is it bad to ever split one?
    Many sticklers for grammar insist that it's very bad form to wantonly split an infinitive. But what is a split infinitive, and what's the problem? The infinitive is the plain form of a verb,...
  • What is the longest English word in common usage?What is the longest English word in common usage?
    The longest word in a recognized English language dictionary is pneumonoultramicroscopicsilicovolcanoconiosis, but few people would ever have used that word or heard it spoken. So what is the l...
  • What is the longest word in English?What is the longest word in English?
    To figure out what is the longest word, we need to ask ourselves first what a "real" word is. In scientific usage, you can give chemicals names hundreds or even thousands of letters long by stringi...
  • What is the worst pun of all time?What is the worst pun of all time?
    There are so many bad puns around, it's hard to pick the worst. But here are some of the contenders: Two oranges go into a bar. One turns to the other and says, "Your round." Then there's...

  Need research? Quezi's researchers can answer your questions at uclue.com

Written by | 8,526 views | Tags: , , , , ,

No Comments »

RSS feed for comments on this post.

Leave a Reply

Privacy Policy | Acknowledgements