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What came first, orange or oranges?

Dear Cecil:

Was the orange named orange because of orange, or was orange named orange because of oranges? You want me to repeat the question?

Pete B., Washington, D.C.

Cecil replies:

Spare me. The noun preceded the adjective, deriving ultimately from the Sanskrit naranga, “orange tree.” It’s thought the initial n may have been dropped in French and Italian due to assimilation into the indefinite article — i.e., une narange became une arange, and una narancia became una arancia. The first English use of the word “orange” as a color adjective appears to have been in 1620.

Cecil Adams

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