That’s the subject line on the e-mail frequent commenter Zackary Sholem Berger sent me with the link I’m about to quote, and I can’t improve on it. Check out this 2006 post from the wonderful site Balashon—Hebrew Language Detective (which I’ve finally gotten around to adding to my RSS feed), featuring Mike Gerver’s impressive etymology for Hebrew אתרוג etrog (the fruit of the hadar tree):

Etrog, on the other hand, is listed in the same book [Ernest Klein’s Etymological Dictionary of the Hebrew Language for English Speakers] as borrowed from Persian turung or Mandaic trunga. (The form etrunga is found in Kiddushin 70a.) The Persian word, according to Chaim Rabin’s article “Lexical Borrowings from Indian Languages as Carriers of Ideas and Technical Concepts” (in Between Jerusalem and Benares: Comparative Studies in Judaism and Hinduism, page 25, edited by Hananya Goodman, SUNY Press) comes from Tamil, and is related to matulankam and matulai which mean pomegranate or lemon. (In modern Tamil, pomegranate is matulanpazham, where pazham means ripe fruit.) Rabin says that there is no similar word in Sanskrit, suggesting that etrogs were originally found only in southern India where Tamil and other Dravidian languages are spoken, and only spread to northern India and Persia in a later period (after Sanskrit). I’m not sure what this implies about the question of whether pri etz hadar always meant only the etrog, and whether the etz hadaat could have been an etrog. It is quite possible, of course, that trunga did not mean an etrog, but a different kind of fruit, at the time the word was borrowed from Dravidian, and that it was this other fruit that was only found in southern India. The kam at the end of matulankam (and hence the nga at the end of trunga) are presumably related to kaay meaning “fruit” in modern Tamil. The same root is apparently found in the Persian word naranga (source of naranja in Spanish and hence orange in French and English), which was also borrowed from a Dravidian language. In modern Tamil, naru means “smelly,” so naranga could mean “fragrant fruit.” (Words that mean “fragrant” tend to evolve to mean “smelly” in any language.) Oranges are thought to have come to the Middle East and Europe from northern India, according to the Encyclopedia Britannica, and to there from southern China and Indochina, so the question arises as to why the word would be borrowed from a Dravidian language. One possibility is that the word dates back to the period before the Indo-European conquest of India, when Dravidian languages were spoken in Northern India as well. So the g in etrog would be cognate with the g in orange.

Zackary said confidently “you will like this,” and of course I do. (I thought either MMcM or I had done a post on the tangled history of orange, but apparently not.)


  1. I remember something by MMcM about orange too; but when I looked, I got distracted by his current post.

  2. Mike Gerver says

    I’m glad you enjoyed this! I certainly had fun researching and writing it.

  3. Is it true that there is no rhyme for “orange” in English?

  4. Sporange, but you’d have trouble making a reasonable connection.

  5. O what’s the rhyme to porringer?
    Ken ye the rhyme to porringer?
    King James the Seventh had ae dochter,
    And he gave the Prince of Orange her.
    Ken ye how she requited him?
    Ken ye how she requited him?
    The lad has into England come,
    And ta’en the croon in spite of him.
    The dog, he shallna keep it lang,
    To flinch we’ll mak him fain again;
    We’ll hang him hie upon a tree,
    And James shall have his ain again.

  6. Bill Walderman says

    A timely post–today (10/12) is the first day of Sukkot, if I’m not mistaken. So what’s the origin of lulav?

  7. The Tamil word நரந்தம், or ‘narantam’, seems to be translatable in Sangam-period poetry to ‘fragrance’, and now would in fact be generally interpreted as ‘related to some citrus fruit’ (though whether or not your interlocutor would think you were terribly strange for using it is, ahem, up for debate). The strictly closest word to ‘naranga’ I can come up with is probably ‘narthangai’ (நார்த்தங்காய்), which would refer to an unripe citrus fruit — not an ‘orange’, in that it’s not C. sinensis, but I think it’s typically a citron (or occasionally bitter orange). I guess this brings us back to etrog!
    Worth noting that the Persian use of ‘narang’ is also not an ‘orange’ in the standard English sense. Like almost everyone else in that general geographical area, they address real oranges quite properly as Portugals.

  8. Well, the Jacobites might have had the best songs, but clearly not the best poems.
    As for “…sporange, a very rare alternative form of sporangium…”, I’d guess that it is very rare beacuse it is just a contrived rhyme for ‘orange’.

  9. I see a market niche – a sporran made with Orang-Utang hair might be called a “sporange”, thus filling long-felt needs for a sporran suitable for exhibitionists, a rhyme for orange, and an absurdly bad joke.

  10. But that would be a sporang, and it still wouldn’t rhyme.

  11. As DG pointed out, there is another word “nARRankaay,” in modern Tamil, that refers to a kind of fragrant citric unripe fruit (kaay) that is used for pickling in salt and eating with curd rice.
    The name literally translates to “fragrant unripe fruit.”
    Also, narang may not mean orange in modern Persian, but narangi in modern Hindi does refer to the orange.

  12. Hinge, binge, whinge, singe etc. are close enough for me, but I’m not a licensed poet or songster.

  13. “One possibility is that the word dates back to the period before the Indo-European conquest of India, ”
    Another is that Europeans reaching India through the Mediterranean and then Red Sea would have more contact with south India than with the north.

  14. door-hinge has been proposed

  15. Dearieme: A song it is, or rather was. In its 1820 review of Hogg’s Jacobite Relics, the Edinburgh Magazine said that “the air is exceedingly simple”, but there appears to be neither folk memory nor a record of it. It appears there and elsewhere with the addition of the following lines:
    Ken ye the rhyme to grasshopper?
    Ken ye the rhyme to grasshopper?
    A hempen rein, and a horse o’ tree,
    A psalm-book and a presbyter.

  16. Door hinge works fine.
    A man’s face turned bright orange
    When he squeezed his nose in a door ‘inge

  17. “But that would be a sporang”: no, no, the point is that the ape’s hair is a reddish orange, so that it really would be a “sporange”. I told you it was a bad joke.
    @JohnCowan: you win. Perhaps the Jacobites had both the best and the worst songs.
    “door hinge” only works if you pronounce “orange” as “oringe”, which I don’t. It’s like, I suppose, pronouncing “garage” as “garridge”, which I sometimes do. (Or at least I think I do; I sometimes find it hard to be sure how I pronounce words when I become self-conscious about it.)

  18. I thought the Dravidian origin hypothesis of language had been discredited.

  19. “door hinge” only works if you pronounce “orange” as “oringe”, which I don’t.
    I thought everyone said ‘inge. If you say or-range, then I suppose it rhymes with –ange words. Home, home on the o-range.

  20. for me, door-hinge/orange is as good or bad a rhyme as forehead/horrid

  21. More Dravidian-Hebrew loans: tuki, which appears in Kings I 10:22, meaning some colorful bird (peacock? parrot?), and used in Modern Hebrew as ‘parrot’. Klein says it’s “probably from malabai tógai, tōghai“.
    In the word šenhab ‘ivory’, the first part is ‘tooth’; as I recall, the second part is cognate with ‘ivory’, which itself has a very intricate etymology, passing from Dravidian to Egyptian to Greek or something like that.

  22. rootlesscosmo says

    @AJP: for me the door-hinge rhyme fails because in my dialect the second syllable of “orange” has a schwa. The prosody is a little off, too–I would pronounce “door-hinge,” hyphen or no hyphen, as a spondee, not a trochee.

  23. Rootless: as I get older and deafer, high-frequency sounds, especially vowels, smoodge themselves together until I’m hearing one big schwa for all of them. I defer to those of you who can still tell vowels apart. Actually my second syllable is probably like yours, with a schwa rather than an I.

  24. AJP, unless we know whether you pronounce the r in door or the h in hinge, it’s hard to guess at the cadence of your doa ‘inge. Though perhaps that doesn’t matter.

  25. I think I pronounce the R in door but I’m of the non-rhotic persuasion, others may not agree. I certainly pronounce the H in ‘indge.

  26. John Emerson says

    From Dravidian? Of course. Duh.

  27. “It’s called an edge-og. There’s two words in it, edge and og. They’re both spelled with the letter ‘h’.”

  28. I thought either MMcM or I had done a post on the tangled history of orange
    High praise indeed, and from an unexpected quarter. The thread in question is here, replete with toronjas and Dravidians.

  29. With regard to dearime’s “sporange” joke, I’m surprised orangutan (the OED’s preferred version) isn’t regularly folk-etymologised into orange-utan.

  30. On the contrary, it becomes orang-utang with distressing frequency. This may even be standard in French.

  31. I thought the ‘golden apples of the Hesperides’ were the source of oranges. Of course, America is the source of turkeys, introduced by a circuitous route into European ken, so this does not necessarily quash theories involving Persians and Dravidians.

  32. I am a Tamil, but I was trying in Aramaic & Hebrew looking for Tamil words, But in Greek Newtestment I found Tamil words in Bible,. 1- Appa Kapathu,(Tam/ara) = Father help, 2- Mamman(Ta/Ar),= Uncle(Eng), 3.- Anta Maranam(ta /Ar), = That death, 4- Mary era Pasi(asked by Jesus),(Ta/ar), = Mary night Hunger,? like there were lot, Next,- “Moses” Time, BC.566 years before, He had written books/ Scripts, in that *Tamil words* in, 1-Beresheet-Genesis, 2- Shemot-Exodus, 3-Vayikra- Leviticus, 4- Bemidbar -Numbers, 5-Devarim -deuteronomy, so now I come from 5- (Devarim(he) > Divaram(ta), > Thavaram(Ta), This mean Sang /Puem for God, in Tamil there were a lot of “Divaram” for God,I Tell The ancient God /King(Arasan) for ancient Egypt -“Sivan Peru/ Paro/ Pharos Man” was the Indian God Sivan, Because, Peru Man(SPM) was eating Tamil food, it`s Name was “Nithu Putu”, ancient Sumerian also eatting this “Nithu”Putu, ,and if you eat “Putu_Nithu-24 / 12 hour you no need to eat, hard food, Who cock this “Nithu”,? only Sinhales , Malayalles and Ceylon Tamils, so there were lot of news about HeberwLanguage, ancient Sumerian Cunei form and Tamil,

  33. Orangutang is standard in Danish, from Du orang-oetang — which may no longer be the preferred form in Dutch, but is still mentioned at the head of the Wikipedia article.

    Etymonline gives a 1631 Dutch form with the velar nasal as the source of the English word, so the question is if it was later corrected in scientific usage to match the Malay orang hutan and the other form is a retention.

  34. Poe spells it orang-outang, and he is known to have been competent in French. The OED3 (2004) is on top of the situation, showing variants with both -n and -ng in many languages, although the -ng forms show up in the 16C and the -n not until the 17C in German and the 18C elsewhere.

    The real show-stopper, however, is that orang hutan is not the Malay name of the animal, being used only as a freely created compound meaning ‘forest dweller’, and that rarely. The proper Malay word is maias > English mias, apparently borrowed from Iban, one of the basal languages from which Malayic dispersed. In very recent years, says the OED3, orang hutan has started to appear in dictionaries of Standard Malay in the sense ‘maias’!

  35. How odd! How did European languages manage to adopt a nonce phrase instead of the actual name of the animal?

  36. There is a folk belief found in Indonesia that it was an actual regional name for the animal, which was later lost.

  37. This is the same Iban in which a lot of nouns have weirdly reversed meanings: Malay kampong ‘group of buildings, village’ > English compound ‘id.’ appears in Iban as kampung ‘forest, jungle’.

  38. marie-lucie says

    French for orang utang

    The TLFI lists both orang outan and plain orang but gives citations with different spellings. I think I learned the word as orang-outang, but the spelling reform seems to avoid hyphens as much as possible (not always a good idea in my opinion).

  39. David Marjanović says

    I think I learned the word as orang-outang

    So did I; this form has 193,000 ghits, and while the Wikipédia article has been changed to orang-outan (with the hyphen throughout), the other form is listed prominently at the top and also has five other occurrences throughout the article.

  40. Raveen Nathan says

    If you read Chaim Rabin comprehensively you’d understand why Jews would name non Tamil merchandise with Tamil names, its because they got it via South India either directly or through other intermediaries. Hence many North Indian and South East Asian merchandise acquired Tamil or Tamilized names that was picked by Mediterranean merchants. These loanwords shouldn’t be seen in isolation in Hebrew, but via Akkadian, Persian, South Arabian and most importantly Old Greek. Because merchants speaking all these various languages were active in South India where Tamil was the language of commerce and then exchanged these culture words amongst themselves. Its a fascinating world given that we now know even Philistines were eating clearly Indian origin food stuff like Turmeric and Banana (dried or chip) by 1500 BCE.

  41. I thought either MMcM or I had done a post on the tangled history of orange

    You may have been thinking of this post, where you linked to bradshaw of the future’s post on it.

  42. You’re probably right — thanks!

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