In a situation where you want to refer to a colour and either you don't know of any name for that colour or you know the name but you also believe your interlocutor doesn't know it - you'll instinctively resort to the evocation of an object characterised by that colour.
The same holds true for other senses by the way. Would you rather say for instance "there's a smell of rotten egg" or "there's a smell of hydrogen sulfide"?
So, unless one wants to tell the policeman "I think the light was still in the 580-620 nm range when I crossed!", we need aliases for colours.
As for the orange colour, interestingly enough, the Old English word was "geoluread" (PDE yellow-red, G. gelb-rot). One has to say that in those times, very few people in England had had a chance of seeing real oranges.
The fact that oranges are quite alone in their category of orange-coloured objects added to their simple shape and the consistency of their shade probably explains why people commonly used it as a reference for the colour and that the name of the fruit became the name of the colour.
One can only notice that the phenomenon is a widespread one, observed in many languages and suffering only a few notable albeit easily understandable exceptions.
Here is a whirlwind tour of the various family of names for the fruit and its distinctive colour.
- The first family is the Anglo French Orange and all its cognates
- Italian: arancia (fruit) => arancione (colour).
- Spanish: naranja (fruit) => naranja (colour).
- Portuguese: laranja (fruit) => [cor de] laranja (colour).
- In Europe, the sweet orange was first grown in Portugal in the 15th century1 so that the fruit has a different name all around the mediteranean:
- Greek: πορτοκάλι "portocâli" (fruit) => πορτοκαλί (colour).
- Rumanian: portocală (fruit) => portocaliu (colour).
- Arabic: the common word (for the sweet Orange is) برتقال, burtuqāl (the persian نارنج, nāranğ is only used for the bitter varety). The colour name is identical burtuqāl.
- Napolitan: purtuall2. AFAIR the colour name is identical.
- Turkish: portakal but the colour is turuncu from Persian nârenji (نارنجی) => The bitter variety.
- Persian: porteqâl (پرتقال) (meaning both sweet orange and Portugal) and nârenji (نارنجی) meaning both the colour and the bitter variety.
- In Chinese, the colour (chéngsè 橙色, lit. orange-colour) is named after the fruit (chéngzi 橙子, lit. orange+[substantive marker]).
One notable exception is the common case of many northern countries in which the fruit has two concurrent names. an older one taken from Old Dutch appelsien3 now sinaasappel and a newer one taken from English orange. In which case the colour itself is most of the time a cognate of orange.
- Northern German: Apfelsine, and also Apfelsinenbaum, Apfelsinensaft. colour: orange.
- Danish and Norwegian : appelsin => Appelsinjuice; colour: Orange/Oransje
- Icelandic: Appelsína; colour appelsínugulur (orange-yellow).
- more to the east: Russian: апелсин; and the colour: oранжевый.
In Dominican Republic, the orange colour is actually called "mamey" after the local fruit named Mammee. One has to mention though that they do have oranges over there but these are actually green. The Mammey instead is... orange. QED.
Während die Bitterorange spätestens im 11. Jahrhundert nach Italien gekommen ist, wurde die süße Variante erst im 15. Jahrhundert nach Europa eingeführt, wo sie zunächst fast ausschließlich in Portugal angebaut wurde.
Translation: Although the bitter variety was already known in Italy by the 11th Century at the latest, the sweet variety was not introduced into Europe until the 15th Century, where it was first grown almost exclusively in Portugal.
Napolitan people will tell you that it comes from French "Pour toi" but that's folk etymology
appelsien = Chinese Apple. There is no relation with the original sin although many German contemporary oil paintings depict Adam and Eve together with the snake coiled inside an orange tree.