Which came first - orange the colour or orange the fruit?

Relatively few languages have a basic term for the mixture of red and yellow

Matt Payton
Thursday 18 February 2016 17:42
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A worker puts the final touch to a sculpture made with lemons and oranges at the Lemon festival in Menton, France
A worker puts the final touch to a sculpture made with lemons and oranges at the Lemon festival in Menton, France

The colour orange is synonymous with the citrus fruit which shares its name and hue.

But do you know if the name for the fruit or the name for the colour came first?

This is only one question raised following the creation of the world's first ever colour thesaurus by Californian illustrator and children's author, Ingrid Sundberg.

Given the exoticism of the orange fruit, you could be forgiven that the colour came first as it naturally occurs independent of the fruit such as in sunsets or leaves in autumn.

Orange actually comes from the Old French word for the citrus fruit - 'pomme d'orenge' - according to the Collins dictionary.

Different types of the colour orange from the colour thesaurus

This in turn is thought have come from the Sanskrit word "nāranga" via Persian and Arabic.

The use of orange as the specific description for a colour is thought to have begun in the 1500s when the fruit began to regularly appear on English market stalls.

To add complication to our understanding of colour, not all world languages have as many basic colour terms as English.

Indeed, there are only a few languages with a basic term for the mixture of red and yellow, according to Dr Dominic Watt from the University of York.

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