Friday, October 14, 2011

Oranges and Elephants

"Suit the action to the word, and the word to the action." - William Shakespeare     
     No word in the English dictionary rhymes with "orange." "Orange," therefore, is a special word. On a half-intensional quest for interestingness, I did a little etymological search on the word "orange" in the Oxford English Dictionary. If the OED were an ordinary, bound dictionary, its thickness might rival the height of the Empire State Building. Fortunately for me, the online school where I take a couple of my classes has a privileged access to the online dictionary database. Convert a book the size of the Empire State Building into bandwidth, and you suddenly realize why everyone else on the cafe wifi just lost internet access.
     But I digress. Suffice to say that "orange" had quite the etymological history, much to my satisfaction. The word comes from the original Sanskrit phrase, "naga ranga." The phrase literally means "fatal indigestion for elephants." The origins go way back to the Biblical story of the Fall. The Malaysian peoples of ancient times had created a story based on Genesis, but with an elephantine twist of their own. Allegedly, it was the elephant, not the human, that stumbled upon a beautiful, fruit-laden tree in this Malay story. Tempted by the fruit on what happened to be an orange tree, the elephant committed the first sin of gluttony and ate them all. Then, on the spot, the overindulged elephant exploded. Dozens of years later, a man stumbled upon the fossilized remains of the exploded elephant, and found many orange trees growing in what had been the elephant's stomach. "Naga ranga!" the man cried. "What fatal indigestion for elephants!" The phrase was eventually translated into English as "orange" via Persian, Arabic, regional Italian, Portuguese, Middle French, and Anglo Norman.
     For one of only a few English words without rhymes, "Orange's" etymology is certainly one-of-a-kind as well. Also one-of-a-kind, is my appreciation for crazy stuff like this. I was going to draw a picture of an exploding elephant to complement this post, but I thought better of it. You're welcome.
Thanks to the OED and

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