Ranga, ginger ninja, fanta pants...
Ever wondered why we call people with ginger locks ‘redheads’, when their hair is clearly orange?
That’s because English didn’t distinguish between red and orange until the 1540s, and we’d been using the word ‘redhead’ since the mid-1200s.
So what came first, the colour or the fruit?
The fruit arrived in England in the 1300s (via Italy), but it took over 200 years for orange to become both a colour and a fruit.
The word and fruit ‘orange’ comes to English via the Italian arancia, which comes from the Arabic naranj and the Sanscrit naranga.
In terms of language development, ‘red’ is usually the third colour that’s described after white and black – probably because of human blood.
The word ‘red’ comes from the Proto-Indo-European word reudh, via the Proto-Germanic word rauthaz, and is related to words like ‘ruddy’, ‘rufus’, and the surname ‘Reid’.
So why wait until oranges arrived before distinguishing between orange and red? Why not call it ‘pumpkin’ or ‘carrot’?
Well, pumpkins come from North America and so didn’t reach English until the 1500s. And until only a few hundred years ago, carrots were mainly purple.
Image credit: Public domain. Elizabeth I of England, the Armada Portrait, oil on panel, 38 1/2 in. x 28 1/2 in. (978 mm x 724 mm), National Portrait Gallery, unknown artist. Cut down from a wider version of the Woburn Abbey painting.