Thursday, July 27, 2017

Language of Confusion: Feeling Fruity, Part II

Now for citrus fruit. Except orange. Because it’s the color. Or really, the color is because of the fruit. Go look it up.

Lemon showed up in the fifteenth century as…lymon. Wait, isn’t that the flavor of Sprite? No, wait. That’s limon. Which is the Old French word where lymon comes from. It came to us from the Arabic laimun and Persian limun via either Provençal (a Southern French language) or Italian. And before that, it might even be Malaysian! What a long way for a word to go!

Lime showed up in the seventeenth century, but that’s where things get murky. The Spanish lima or Portuguese limão probably gave us the word, and they probably got it from the Arabic lima, which meant citrus fruit and is from the Persian word limun, which I’m sure you find familiar. But it’s another one of those that we can’t be sure of. It’s obviously related in some way, but we can’t pin down the evolution of it.

Grapefruit always bugged me, because come on. It has nothing to do with grapes. It showed up as a word in 1814, just over two hundred years ago. The fruit was known before that, but apparently it wasn’t eaten much until the nineteenth century, and I guess that’s why people didn’t give it a name before then. Although why grape and fruit I have no idea. It’s thought to have been called that either because of the taste or because it grows in bunches. It obviously doesn’t grow in clumps as numerous as grapes, but taste? In what world do grapes and grapefruit taste alike?

Tangerine showed up pretty recently, in 1842. It was originally tangerine orange, an orange from Tangier in Morocco. No big reveal here! It’s just named after a place that shipped it out.

Clementine is the most recent of them all, having shown up in 1926, from the French clementine, which showed up in 1902. The reason it’s a clementine? It was named after a guy named Clement, who discovered it in his garden. He was actually a priest who ran an orphanage in Algeria and the fruit apparently appeared accidentally, so I guess he just happened to run across it.

That’s it for the citrus fruits. I mean, there’s a lot more in existence, but I’m not going into all of them. Maybe when I get really hard up for material.



  1. I just heard yesterday (but have made no attempt to verify at this point) that originally oranges and limes were the only two kinds of citrus. All the others have come from those two.

  2. Tangerine having a sensible origin... how lovely!

  3. I remember reading about orange a while back. We really need a name for everything, don't we?


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