"Color ... betwixe yelow and reed"
July 27, 2018 12:07 PM   Subscribe

Orange, however, seems to be the only basic color word for which no other word exists in English. There is only orange, and the name comes from the fruit. Color or Fruit? On the Unlikely Etymology of “Orange” by David Scott Kastan with Stephen Farthing via LitHub posted by chavenet (80 comments total) 36 users marked this as a favorite
 
Apricot? Coral? Salmon?

That said, the late entry of this as a color word in English is interesting.
posted by brainmouse at 12:14 PM on July 27, 2018 [5 favorites]


I have always found the history of orange interesting indeed (it's a bit like the odd history of green in Japanese), and I will accept the article's premise that some combination of the word's youth and tight identity to its object probably does explain the relative lack of shade names.

But I can't agree that there is anything fundamentally different between the relationship avocado:green and pumpkin:orange, especially if the linguistic test is whether you can use them either alone or as adjective pairs. There's nothing wrong with describing a shade as 'pumpkin orange', and it's no more redundant than the other examples.
posted by rokusan at 12:17 PM on July 27, 2018 [6 favorites]


Apricot? Coral? Salmon?

Although coral and salmon are orangish shades, they're often referred to as "coral red" and "salmon pink", so perhaps these examples only help prove the point.

Speaking of pink, I'd love to see an article like this about the etymology of that one. I know it's from the flowers called pinks, but there's a whole side story about how "pink" sometimes meant yellow in its early days as a color word, and I've never understood how these two stories are reconciled.
posted by aws17576 at 12:17 PM on July 27, 2018 [11 favorites]


Saffron?
posted by elsietheeel at 12:24 PM on July 27, 2018


In Swedish there are different words for the color ("orange") and the fruit ("apelsin"). The color used to be called "brandgul" though (fire yellow) before "orange" came from French.
posted by Vesihiisi at 12:27 PM on July 27, 2018 [20 favorites]


I literally came here to comment about the words in Swedish. Nu, jag är ledsen.
posted by Chrysostom at 12:35 PM on July 27, 2018 [5 favorites]


The University of Texas has burnt orange, sort of a terra cotta. The color was selected to help hide a football when held against a jersey...
posted by jim in austin at 12:36 PM on July 27, 2018 [4 favorites]


Huh, I always thought it represented a sunburned Bevo.
posted by GenjiandProust at 12:41 PM on July 27, 2018 [2 favorites]




In Dutch the fruit is called a sinaasappel, from China's apple.
posted by Pendragon at 12:49 PM on July 27, 2018 [6 favorites]


Huh, I always thought it represented a sunburned Bevo.

Originally the school color was bright orange like Tennessee but Darrell Royal changed it to act as camouflage for the football team...
posted by jim in austin at 12:51 PM on July 27, 2018 [2 favorites]


Interesting! I had a conversation with a friend from France not too long ago about the color orange. She was saying that the range of what she would call orange was much narrower than mine. Things went way more into yellow or red categories for her.

She's lived in the US for many years, but still noticed this difference (mainly because her students laugh when she calls something yellow when it's "obviously orange!").
posted by queensissy at 1:02 PM on July 27, 2018 [4 favorites]


I've known a handful of English(-only) speakers, mainly American but also one Brit, who would confuse the words orange and yellow when speaking. When questioned, they'd always correct it, so it wasn't a visual or colorblind thing.

There's really is something about the word.
posted by rokusan at 1:17 PM on July 27, 2018


Saffron?
posted by Abehammerb Lincoln at 1:18 PM on July 27, 2018 [1 favorite]


Well "yellow" can mean "orange" and so can "red": yellow school buses are orange, red hair is orange. So maybe "ginger" means "orange"? I like that because ginger root isn't really orange at all (but I also don't like it because the word is a bit offensive).

Other than that, "Burnt sienna" and "rust" are perfectly fine orangey words.
posted by surlyben at 1:22 PM on July 27, 2018 [1 favorite]


This is why I always refer to colors by their number.
posted by randomkeystrike at 1:25 PM on July 27, 2018 [3 favorites]


There's really is something about the word.

The otherwise conventional lexicon of my sister has always had, and continues to contain, a color pronounced, "oinj".
posted by StickyCarpet at 1:32 PM on July 27, 2018 [3 favorites]


The wikipedia shades of orange page suggests "vermilion", along with a bunch of fruits and vegetables (is "carrot" allowed?) and variations of "orange". It also says "brown" which for some reason we are not allowed to count.
posted by surlyben at 1:36 PM on July 27, 2018 [4 favorites]


I made one of my elementary school teachers really frustrated by asking this question, so I am glad to see this article.
posted by yueliang at 1:41 PM on July 27, 2018


Orange hair is called red because English-speakers have had red hair before the word orange came to be. (I think school buses are on the line between yellow and orange now and could fairly be described as either, though we call them yellow because they used to actually be yellow.)

But yeah, it's always fun seeing where people differentiate between two colours -- I called some flowers pink yesterday and was loudly corrected that they were purple. They're a pinkish lavender, or a lavenderish pink. I've definitely had the discussion about whether a turquoise or teal shirt is blue or green a lot.
posted by jeather at 1:50 PM on July 27, 2018 [3 favorites]


The wikipedia shades of orange page suggests "vermilion", along with a bunch of fruits and vegetables (is "carrot" allowed?) and variations of "orange". It also says "brown" which for some reason we are not allowed to count.

I think it's that if you asked someone what colour a carrot is, they wouldn't say carrot, and so on.
posted by dng at 1:52 PM on July 27, 2018


It seems like pretty much every study that has looked into which colors we name and why puts orange way down the list. In both the original 1969 Berlin-Kay study of which color classes people recognize, and the long-term followup World Color Survey, orange is one of the colors which only gets a categorical name in languages with an unusually high number of color categories. So one those grounds it's not too strange that English didn't have a common categorical name for the hue, any more than it's strange that English still doesn't have a categorical name for blueish-green. The weird bit, though, is that you'd think it would either emerge early in the language's development or not at all: the 16th century seems awfully late for English to still be figuring out what its major color categories are.
posted by jackbishop at 1:58 PM on July 27, 2018 [9 favorites]


When I was learning Irish I was astonished to discover that there was no specific word for orange, as it’s apparently seen as a shade of yellow, flannbhuí meaning basically “blood yellow.”
posted by maxsparber at 1:59 PM on July 27, 2018 [13 favorites]


(The Berlin-Kay study to which jackbishop refers is also the source material for one of my all-time favorite columns from the late, lamented Straight Dope.)
posted by box at 2:05 PM on July 27, 2018 [3 favorites]


orange
posted by Devonian at 2:08 PM on July 27, 2018 [1 favorite]


So maybe "ginger" means "orange"? I like that because ginger root isn't really orange at all (but I also don't like it because the word is a bit offensive).

We aren't talking about the root. Ginger flowers are red.
posted by Jilder at 2:09 PM on July 27, 2018 [1 favorite]


man, did I ever get a case of semantic satiation on the word "orange" from reading that article.

toward the end I kept thinking at first glance it didn't look spelled correctly.
posted by ArgentCorvid at 2:11 PM on July 27, 2018 [2 favorites]


Marigold?
posted by aiglet at 2:31 PM on July 27, 2018


Yeah, those “rhymes” with orange kinda aren’t. Rhyming “aren’t there” with “orange hair” shows that the final words rhyme, not anything to do with orange.
I’ll give him syringe despite the accented syllable being different, but that’s about it.
posted by greermahoney at 2:39 PM on July 27, 2018 [2 favorites]


The otherwise conventional lexicon of my sister has always had, and continues to contain, a color pronounced, "oinj".
Presumably she can meet up with my dad and they can color with oinj crowns
posted by DoctorFedora at 2:55 PM on July 27, 2018 [10 favorites]


yellow school buses are orange

Say what now?

I have a van whose official color name is "school bus yellow" and it's... very yellow.
posted by flaterik at 3:10 PM on July 27, 2018 [2 favorites]


Often they referred to oranges as “golden apples.” Not until they knew them as oranges did they see them as orange.

Maaaaan, most people instinctively think that orange juice is orange, when really it's a color that most people would call yellow if they saw it somewhere else.
posted by 23skidoo at 3:24 PM on July 27, 2018 [5 favorites]


jeather: But yeah, it's always fun seeing where people differentiate between two colours

But, is lemon-lime Gatorade green or yellow?
posted by hanov3r at 3:43 PM on July 27, 2018


I'm pretty sure it was on Metafilter that I learned that carrots are purple.
posted by Obscure Reference at 3:49 PM on July 27, 2018 [3 favorites]


Amber?
posted by Pruitt-Igoe at 4:13 PM on July 27, 2018 [4 favorites]


Strange.
posted by emf at 4:40 PM on July 27, 2018


Is the middle traffic light yellow or amber?
posted by freethefeet at 4:47 PM on July 27, 2018 [1 favorite]


But, is lemon-lime Gatorade green or yellow?

I'm not sure I've seen it in real life, but an image search suggests that I'd probably say yellow, assuming my screen is anything like the real colour (big assumption).
posted by jeather at 4:54 PM on July 27, 2018


"yellow school buses are orange"

whaaaaaat? School bus yellow (aka National School Bus Glossy Yellow and it's defined in federal law) in CMYK is 1, 12, 100, 0; yellow-yellow is 0, 0, 100, 0. School bus yellow is VERY VERY yellow. It has a TITCH of magenta, but not nearly enough to be orange!
posted by Eyebrows McGee at 5:11 PM on July 27, 2018 [6 favorites]


I have long understood that the word that rhymes with ‘orange’ is ‘borange’. Its definition is, “the word that rhymes with ‘orange’.”
posted by stanf at 5:11 PM on July 27, 2018 [1 favorite]


But, is lemon-lime Gatorade green or yellow?

It's tennis-ball colored. No proper rainbow should be without.
posted by traveler_ at 5:31 PM on July 27, 2018 [2 favorites]


Is the middle traffic light yellow or amber?

Amber. See the 1970s UK public information campaign, "Don't be an amber gambler".
posted by Devonian at 5:38 PM on July 27, 2018


At home, I have a pair of scissors that have (to me) orange grips/handles. Whenever I ask my partner, ”Where are the orange scissors?”, there's a pause and then, "Oh, do you mean the yellow ones?"

Mkay, they may be a bit of a desaturated orange as they may have faded over the years, but yellow?!?!

And I am again reminded that my brain does not operate like everyone else's brain.
posted by shoesfullofdust at 6:01 PM on July 27, 2018 [1 favorite]


Americans have made fun of me for calling the middle traffic light “amber”, which in the USA is either a stripper-name, or where to get dinosaur DNA in order to build Jurassic Park.

It’s harder to be an amber gambler in the US because you don’t get amber before green, only before red. I wondered for ages why I wasn’t always noticing the lights going green, til I realized my brain was watching for an amber phase that never showed up.
posted by w0mbat at 6:03 PM on July 27, 2018 [7 favorites]


"yellow school buses are orange"

whaaaaaat? School bus yellow (aka National School Bus Glossy Yellow and it's defined in federal law) in CMYK is 1, 12, 100, 0; yellow-yellow is 0, 0, 100, 0. School bus yellow is VERY VERY yellow. It has a TITCH of magenta, but not nearly enough to be orange!



Agreed. I think one of the confounding issues might be that orange juice is almost exactly that same shade of yellow. So linguistically we associate that color with the adjective “orange” as a color modifier, rather than orange as a fruit modifier in the phrase “orange juice.” Because clearly, orange juice is not really orange juice.

On the other hand, carrot juice is definitely orange juice.
posted by darkstar at 6:28 PM on July 27, 2018 [2 favorites]


Also, I recommend not calling tennis balls “chartreuse” unless you wish to be mocked.
posted by darkstar at 6:33 PM on July 27, 2018


'The wikipedia shades of orange page suggests "vermilion", along with a bunch of fruits and vegetables (is "carrot" allowed?)'

Oh yesss! Describing orange things as carrot (and definitely not carrot coloured) is officially my new deliberately annoying habit, thanks!
posted by I'm always feeling, Blue at 6:46 PM on July 27, 2018 [4 favorites]


The historical comparison to brown is very recognisable, I tend to think of it as desaturated orange, and I don't really agree with the instant dismissal that "no one then would have known that". Children playing with crayons can understand the relationship between brown and orange, how long have people been painting earth and skin tones?
posted by lucidium at 6:48 PM on July 27, 2018 [1 favorite]


If there is anything “I Love Hue” has taught me, it is that *my* idea of what is a colour’s name is highly dependent on the colours around it.
posted by saucysault at 7:06 PM on July 27, 2018 [6 favorites]


I have long understood that the word that rhymes with ‘orange’ is ‘borange’. Its definition is, “the word that rhymes with ‘orange’.”

My brother the physicist has declared that if he ever gets to name a proof or anything, he'll name it borange so something will rhyme with orange.
posted by duffell at 7:09 PM on July 27, 2018 [8 favorites]


Pink is another colour name that derives from a single plant example. Before the introduction of pinks (the plant - Dianthus spp.), it was referred to as "light red", which is a little odd, since there were other pink-coloured flowers around before their introduction, including a (pretty rare) native British species. Garden pinks (Dianthus caryophyllus) were introduced in the early 1700s, possibly from Turkey by one of the Tradescants, and rapidly became popular, not only for their colour, but for their strong clove-like fragrance (hence the Latin name). So popular that their name overtook the former light red as the name for their colour, rather as orange did. Once introduced, gardeners began to breed new varieties with double petals and different colours, including the dark pinky-red then known as "incarnation", meaning a fleshy red, and these varieties became known as carnations, which is the usual name for these flowers today, to the extent that "carnation|" now means that sort of deep pink and "incarnation" is no longer used as a colour-word. The single versions of D. caryophyllus are still known as pinks.

The "pink" name came from the zig-zag edges of the petals, which was similar to pinking, a method of decorating and preventing fraying on the edges of clothing fabric by cutting it into little peaks, Pinking shears are still used to prevent fraying, although decoration of clothes by pinking, which was fashionable around the time pinks (the flower) were introduced, is not.

Before the introduction of pinks (the flower) there was also an orange(!)- yellow pigment called "pinke", derived from sea buckthorn, which was mainly used in watercolours mixed with indigo to give a bright, if impermanent, leaf-green. This was overtaken pink meaning the flower colour, and the buckthorn pigment seems now to be known as sap green. Apparently there are several colours that can be derived from buckthorn; the yellow probably went out of use when better green pigments arrived.
posted by Fuchsoid at 7:12 PM on July 27, 2018 [26 favorites]


"It has a TITCH of magenta, but not nearly enough to be orange."

For me it doesn't take much of a color other than yellow to shift it to something else. I've always seen school buses as a light orange, but I'm not invested in it. (It's not like we are talking about beige vs green. I've had screaming arguments about that with my friends.)
posted by surlyben at 7:19 PM on July 27, 2018 [1 favorite]


School buses are, by definition, cheese wagons, and as we all know, cheese is coloured with annatto. Which is orange.
posted by Pruitt-Igoe at 7:31 PM on July 27, 2018 [1 favorite]


Tom Lehrer was able to rhyme orange:
"Eating an orange
While making love
Makes for bizarre enj-
oyment thereof."
posted by miyabo at 7:49 PM on July 27, 2018 [17 favorites]


Orange is my favorite color whether defined as black eyed Susan orange or butterfly weed orange. I love both. (I knitted my first scarf a combination of navy blue and orange)

Hard to design a peaceful garden but we will power through.

Suggestions gratefully accepted! Orange is a power color!
posted by A Terrible Llama at 8:06 PM on July 27, 2018 [1 favorite]


the 16th century seems awfully late for English to still be figuring out what its major color categories are

Conceivably this has some relationship to the relatively few environmental features and economic objects in Britain and northern Europe (and Central Asia) having that colour, or having a particularly common need to be described or differentiated on the basis of their exact (future) orangeness.

Foxes are foxes (at least in that corner of the world, and red enough in any case), and rust is rust (and the principal source of economically-significant environmental orange in Northern Europe until the rise of the flower markets). Gold is perhaps just too scarce in Northern Europe, too yellow in northern light (?), and certainly too specific in its physical connotations to lend its name to the chunk of the spectrum on its reddish edge; particularly when in many contexts your word choice might be confused to imply that something was made of gold (with disagreeable results, although it is notable that 'gold' is how these strange 'apples' are described until the borrowing from South Asian languages takes hold).

The article does seem to miss that copper and bronze, and umber and ochre were all stand-ins for parts of the orange wedge of the spectrum that would have been in use before the fruit's arrival, though they cross dimensions of perception towards material character that make them perhaps too muddy to be a suitable abstraction.

Economic need for differentiation is important here, as we learn from the article; the application of orange the colour only really takes hold when there is suddenly something economically significant (tulips!) to be described on the basis of not being yellow, red or yellow-red. From there, the explosion in the need for technical adjectivization with the rise of more complex consumer markets, bureaucratic regulation and scientific specialization of experience all played roles in ensuring that orange stayed in the language alongside many other fresh borrowings, repurposings and inventions.

The fact of Oranges being a pure, alien artifact from another place, with no existing associations and no real usefulness besides direct consumption, probably encouraged the borrowed name's abstraction into a colour word. Oranges were already about as abstract as you could get in 16th century Europe outside of Church or University. Much as with the already established colour words in English, there would have been no confusing an adjectival (visual desc.) usage with either an adjectival (material) usage or compounded nouns.
posted by waterunderground at 8:20 PM on July 27, 2018 [5 favorites]


This is why I always refer to colors by their number.

One of the delights of warmer climes than mine is fantastic fresh-squeezed Pantone 1505 U juice.
posted by ricochet biscuit at 8:50 PM on July 27, 2018 [3 favorites]


The only time I’ve had Pantone 1505 U juice was when I squeezed the juice out of several tangerines fresh off of the tree in the back yard.

Generally, though, my breakfast is accompanied by somewhat less flavorful, store-bought Pantone 2006 C juice.
posted by darkstar at 9:49 PM on July 27, 2018 [1 favorite]


Oranges Schmoranges! (It's an HR Pufnstuf segment.)

It features actors in costumes in costumes. It's worthy of recognition, somehow.
posted by hippybear at 10:16 PM on July 27, 2018 [2 favorites]


I got into anime in the late '90s and soon learned while attempting to sing along that rhyme was not native to the Japanese culture. The first time I heard rhyme used in a Japanese song was the Galaxy Angel second season ending theme, Happy Question--a song with a great deal of Western influence, as any Monkees fan who gives it a careful listen will attest. The first chorus is as follows:

Ichi ni san
Ryoute o hirogete
Kataashi o agete
FURAMINGO no POOZU
Kimi to
A I U E ORENJI
Mogitate no kimochi
Sagashi ni yukou...

I don't suppose I have to tell you what ORENJI is. Whoever decided they were going to go for rhyme wasn't messing around.
posted by darksasami at 12:40 AM on July 28, 2018 [1 favorite]


Show me // a word that rhymes with pavement // and I will kill your parents
posted by Dokterrock at 1:14 AM on July 28, 2018


Look, I love my folks, but enslavement is right there. It’s not a reach at all.

Sorry, mom and dad.
posted by greermahoney at 2:07 AM on July 28, 2018 [2 favorites]


THANK YOU HIPPYBEAR. This song (and show) are burned into my brain forever... Pufnstuf and Lidsville were the ultimate osmosis contact high fever dream of my childhood. More than once I've been accused of making it all up. Thank god for YouTube. I'm not crazy, the Krofts were.
posted by I_Love_Bananas at 3:30 AM on July 28, 2018 [3 favorites]


Is the middle traffic light yellow or amber?

Amber. See the 1970s UK public information campaign...


Yellow, per the US Department of Transportation.
posted by rokusan at 6:06 AM on July 28, 2018 [1 favorite]


McKillip's charming "The Throme of the Errol of Sherrill" has a number of what I thought were invented words, but one of them is norange, so some (all?) of the others might be old or obscure words.
posted by Nancy Lebovitz at 6:33 AM on July 28, 2018 [2 favorites]


Fun fact about traffic lights (non-car)

Red means go/safe and white means stop/not safe for railroads because long ago it was the opposite but the red lens fell out of a signal and the light was white so the trains collided. It was decided that having color-modified light was a better indicator of "safe to go" because if the colored lens failed the default would be "stop, not safe".
posted by hippybear at 6:52 AM on July 28, 2018 [11 favorites]


Hippybear, I always thought it was because if the thousands of untrained pedestrians and drivers saw red, they'd interpret it as THEY should stop, or at least they would wonder who it applied to, and so you'd get indirect safety.

The very small number of conductors, of course, would know red means go (for them).

Maybe this was an after-the-fact rationalization, though.
posted by rokusan at 8:19 AM on July 28, 2018 [1 favorite]


We'll surely avoid scurvy if we all eat an orange.
posted by Mr. Bad Example at 8:52 AM on July 28, 2018 [2 favorites]




In Dutch the fruit is called a sinaasappel, from China's apple.

In Puerto Rican Spanish, the fruit is called china, and the color is china or chinita. (Supposedly because oranges were first imported there from China.)
posted by mubba at 10:46 AM on July 28, 2018 [2 favorites]


My company's logo used to be orange, until we figured it it's really hard to get a good orange printed on business cards and so we switched to 100% magenta, and are much happier now.
posted by signal at 12:05 PM on July 28, 2018 [2 favorites]


I thought silver rhymes with orange??
posted by Chitownfats at 3:42 PM on July 28, 2018 [1 favorite]


I can’t find it now, but I recall a book (short story?) wherein a character who was a writer chose to name one of his characters Morange Pilver, so as to provide the world those needed rhymes.
posted by darkstar at 3:57 PM on July 28, 2018 [1 favorite]


Interesting article, but whoever wrote: “No language, however, has words for more than about 1,000 of these, even with compounds and metaphors…” has clearly never shopped for paint.
posted by TedW at 5:41 PM on July 28, 2018 [3 favorites]




Red sky at night, sailor's delight / Red sky in morning, sailor take warning.
Come on now... that's got to have some orange in it.

And Oklahoma State University has your orange, yessir.
posted by TrishaU at 5:59 PM on July 29, 2018


We'll surely avoid scurvy if we all eat an orange.

That one deserves a link for those who don't get the reference.
posted by traveler_ at 9:51 PM on July 29, 2018 [2 favorites]


Hard to design a peaceful garden but we will power through.

Suggestions gratefully accepted!


Not sure if these are linked or separate, but California Poppies are gorgeous orange flowers. (They also come in a two-toned version of orange and yellow.) They are wildflowers, but have not taken over my yard, so I think not an invasive concern.
posted by Margalo Epps at 8:57 PM on July 30, 2018 [1 favorite]


Orange/door hinge.
posted by Purposeful Grimace at 4:46 AM on July 31, 2018 [1 favorite]


we switched [our logo] to 100% magenta, and are much happier now.

Yup. Old designer's trick: there are only four colors you can really count on to reproduce every time.
posted by rokusan at 2:20 PM on August 2, 2018 [1 favorite]


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