Although I am not going to takes sides in any debate on religion or politics or football, the word ORANGE seems a topical one, since it relates to the kit of the Netherlands football team who lost in the World Cup final and to the name of the protestant Orange Men of Northern Ireland during this the Protestant “marching season”.
It’s the word “orange” itself that interests me. It is often quoted as one of the few words which have no rhyme.
In English I guess we didn’t have the word orange until we had the fruit oranges (Citrus aurantium). In its current form the word came straight from French, but has its origins in the Arabic naranj, according to my Chambers Twentieth Century Dictionary of 1980. Although Wikipedia says it came from the Sanskrit narangah. Chambers helpfully compares with the Late Latin arangia, aurantia and narancum; the Italian arancia, earlier narancia ; and the Spanish naranja.
The loss of that N at the beginning is from confusing it with the end of the indefinite article before it, una, une or an. If you imagine “a norange” could easily become “an orange”.
The same thing in reverse happened with the newt. Originally an eft, evet or ewt, it went from “an ewt” to “a newt”. I am reminded of that joke with the man walking into a bar with his friend, a six-foot newt. Why do you call him Tiny? Because he’s “my newt” (minute).
Back to the orange. The change of the vowel from AU to O is because of confusion with the Latin aurum, meaning gold, which changed to or in French.
On to the other meaning of Orange – from a place latterly connected with William of Orange, the Protestant King of England from 1689 to 1702, originally a Dutchman. For many of those years he reigned with his wife Mary, daughter of the Catholic James II of England.
It’s a long story, but this “King Billy” is the hero of the Protestants of Northern Ireland. This is what Wikipedia says:
Many Protestants heralded him as a champion of their faith. Largely because of that reputation, William was able to take the British crowns when many were fearful of a revival of Catholicism under James. William’s victory over James II at the Battle of the Boyne in 1690 is commemorated by the Orange Institution in Northern Ireland to this day. His reign marked the beginning of the transition from the personal rule of the Stuarts to the more-Parliament-centred rule of the House of Hanover.
But what of the place Orange itself? Although the House of Orange-Nassau to which William III belonged was based in the Netherlands, it was created by the marriage of royalty from Germany and France. Ultimately its name comes from the town of Orange in Vaucluse, in the south of France.
That place name also has an interesting history. Orange was founded by the Romans in 35 BC, when it was called Arausio, after the local Celtic water god. That name became Aurenja or Aurenjo in the local Southern French dialects and later was conflated with the word for the fruit and became Orange…
Did I say there’s no rhyme for orange? Here in Wales we have one – Blorenge, a mountain, overlooking Abergavenny…
For more of my ramblings about words and their origins, please click here.