What does “orange” mean?

Well, yeah, it’s the color of an orange; but if you’re in the business of putting together a dictionary, that definition might seem remarkably unspecific. For comparison, Kory Stamper of Merriam-Webster on “coral”:

[S]ense 3c yielded up the fresh wonder, “a strong pink that is yellower and stronger than carnation rose, bluer, stronger, and slightly lighter than rose d’Althaea, and lighter, stronger, and slightly yellower than sea pink.” Carnation rose was clearly the color of the pinkish flower on the tin of Carnation Evaporated Milk, and Rose d’Althaea was clearly Scarlett O’Hara’s flouncy cousin, but it was the last color that captivated me. “Sea pink,” I murmured, and incurred the harumphing wrath of my neighbor. As he stalked off to find a quieter corner, I wanted to stand up and shout, “I grew up 1500 miles from an ocean! I didn’t know the sea was pink!”

Depends on how early in the morning you see it, I suspect. (Then again, I live 1500 miles from an ocean, and I sleep late when I can.)

Oh, and “orange”?

“Orange” in our Learner’s Dictionary is not a color between red and yellow, as it is in the Collegiate. It is the color of fire or carrots.

Or, presumably, carrots on fire.

(Via this Nancy Friedman tweet.)


  1. Jess »

    8 August 2012 · 8:25 am

    It sure looks like they could have simplified the definition and said orange is the color of an orange. Then again, some people may not know what an orange is, but that depends on the definition of “is”.

  2. Joan of Argghh! »

    8 August 2012 · 8:42 am

    In Shakespeare’s Much Ado Beatrice speaks of jealousy being of the same complexion as an orange. This would seem inappropriate to the age-old color of green being associated with envy. I don’t know the history of orange trees and their cultivation, but in Mexico, most oranges at market are mostly green on the outside and juicy and orange on the inside, not the pristine and even colors we see in the U.S. And my grandmother’s orange tree, in Orlando of all places, had green oranges with just a blush of the orangey goodness inside announcing itself on the outside.

    Orange you glad we’re not talking about bananas?


  3. CGHill »

    8 August 2012 · 9:49 am

    Beatrice may be right, given the facial flush that often accompanies spates of jealousy. (Green, I suspect, is more of an eye-color issue.)

    I prefer to buy my bananas when they’re still somewhat green.

  4. Lynn »

    8 August 2012 · 9:58 am

    As a woman I suppose I’m expected to know all about these things but often the newer color names confuse me. If they could just stick with the color names that existed when I was five the world would be a friendlier place.

    “Sea pink” reminded me of another odd color name I’ve been seeing in the past few years: “sea glass” which is something like aqua but of course real sea glass is whatever color the original glass was that was thrown into the ocean.

  5. CGHill »

    8 August 2012 · 10:05 am

    Which once again reminds me of this:

    She brought out the dress, and I recoiled in horror. “Purple!? But I can’t wear purple!”

    She scowled at me. “I told you it was eggplant.”

    And that, of course, was the problem: I had been thinking of cooked eggplant.

    Still need to test carottes flambés.

  6. McGehee »

    8 August 2012 · 2:51 pm

    Or, presumably, carrots on fire.

    How could you not include a musical link?

  7. Joan of Argghh! »

    8 August 2012 · 2:51 pm

    Better still, Carrot Top on fire!

  8. Tatyana »

    8 August 2012 · 6:51 pm

    Carrots color of oranges – that’s wrong on so many levels
    First, let’s compare apples to apples, I mean – mixing up flavors is tasteless!
    Carrots can not be oranges, they have whole different host of associations, including color association. Exotic vs mundane, country farm vs big city, healthily boring vs seductively decadent, masculinity vs femininity, simplicity vs sophistication, resort vs routine, etc etc etc

    [But thanks for the link, the blogger sounds worth investigating]

  9. Lynn »

    9 August 2012 · 11:10 am

    Regarding eggplant… Just to confuse the matter, because I can. :-)

    Orange colored carrots are the result of selective breeding and first appeared in the 17th century. There are also purple carrots.

  10. Joan of Argghh! »

    9 August 2012 · 11:18 am

    Which reminds me that sweet potatoes in South America are purple. I’ve actually made purple sweet potato pie. Mmmmm!

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