Notes from a fascinating world.
The world is like a bazaar, full of interesting odds and ends, and I've been exiled into it. This is my all-over-the-map (literally and metaphorically) attempt at capturing some of the world's many wonders.
In my travels through many countries where I am ignorant of the local languages, there is one thing I almost always know how to say: orange.
From Western Europe to India, there are basically four ways to say “orange.” Three, really.
First, obviously, there is just “orange” along with its variants. In French it’s still just “orange,” but of course you have to say it like it’s French. In Finnish it’s “oranssi.” In Italian it’s “arancia.” Other variants retain the initial consonant from the source language. So in Spanish it’s “naranja.” In Portuguese it’s “laranja.” In Hindi it’s “naarangee.” In Hungarian it’s “narancs.” In Bosnian it’s “narandza.” And so on. All of these come from the Sanskrit word “naranga” of ancient India, which in turn was loaned from a root in Dravidian, that family of languages likely native to the Indian subcontinent.
In Old French, though, “orange” was referred to by a phrase, “pomme d’orenge.” “Pomme,” of course, means apple. So several languages add a “pom-” prefix to the “orange” part of the word. In Czech, the word is “pomeranc.” In Serbian it’s “pomorantsa.” In Polish it’s “pomarancza.”
In northern Europe, several languages refer to the fruit’s oriental origins — the citrus species we know as orange was first found in India, China, and Southeast Asia. So in German the word is “Apfelsine,” — “Apfel” meaning apple, and “Sina” being the Latin name for China — though “Orange” is also an acceptable word. The “Chinese apple” variation appears in Swedish (“apelsin”), Latvian (“apelsins”), Icelandic (“appelsina”), Dutch (“sinaasappel”), and Russian (“apel’sin”) among others. The Russian example is particularly interesting, because the words for “apple” and “China” in Russian are both quite different: “yabloko” and “Kitay” respectively.
Finally, a group of languages call oranges some variation on the name of a country — Portugal. In Greek it’s “portokali.” In Romanian it’s “portocaliu.” In Albanian it’s “portokall.” In Turkish it’s “portakal.” In Georgian it’s “portoxali.” In Arabic and Farsi it’s “burtuqal.” And in Amharic, the lingua franca of Ethiopia, the word is “birtukan.” These words appear to refer to the role of Portuguese merchants in introducing oranges into these societies. Indeed, those European languages that adopt variations of this name are spoken in the former Byzantine Empire, and the non-European languages are spoken by those to the east and south of that empire who traded and fought extensively with it. These facts of history hint at the timeframe and the circumstances of the introduction of the fruit and the word.
I named this blog “Exile’s Bazaar” in part because numerous languages across many cultures share the word “bazaar.” The story of what we call oranges is a more complicated but similarly fascinating tale of what seemingly different peoples have in common. In the end, we all enjoy the sweet taste of an orange.
Writer, traveler, lawyer, dilettante. Failed student of physics. Not altogether distinguished graduate of two Ivy League institutions. Immigrant twice over. "The grand tour is just the inspired man's way of getting home."