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Portugal Is Not The Only Fruit

I saw something really interesting online the other day. Someone shared a link from imgur showing all the different words used for “orange” in languages in and around Europe.

The word for the fruit “orange” in various European languages

Notice anything? I’m looking at the green ones, mainly. These are countries with strong Arabic influences or strong Greek ones. And… They all seem to be close variants of “Portugal”. This aroused my curiosity, so I did what any self-respecting inhabitant of the twenty-first century would do: I looked it up on Wikipedia.

According to this section, the origin of the name of the country is from the Latin “Portus Cale” – the port of Cale, where Cale is probably a Celtic name for something-or-other. It evolved into Portugal between the seventh and ninth centuries when the country had been conquered by an Arabic-speaking army and was part of the land known as الأندلس (Al-Andalus). I can’t help feeling like the similarity of “Portus Cale” to their word for a small fruit might have influenced the colonists’ pronunciation of the name of their new possession. Citrus fruits do grow in the area, so maybe if there were a lot of orange groves around it might have been a pretty good fit to call it the orange region. A few centuries later, after the reconquista rolled back the invaders, the name lives on.  A place named after orange groves isn’t far-fetched. Orange County in California got its name the same way, although California hasn’t been conquered by Muslims, whatever Donald Trump might tell you.

I have absolutely no idea if there’s any truth in this. Fact-checking was never my strong point. It would be an odd linguistic legacy. Portuguese does have some inheritances from Arabic (there’s a list here if you’re interested) but their word for Orange (“laranja”) não é um deles. And yet, it just seems too… well, too right.


Just a data nerd

6 thoughts on “Portugal Is Not The Only Fruit

  1. Further reading if you’re interested:
    This guy reckons the connection goes the other way around: The orange is called that in arabic-speaking countries because of a particular variant that came from the area now known as Portugal. Interesting. He’s speculating too though, so I won’t discount my theory just yet.

    You might also be interested in the first couple of minutes of this episode of The Allusionist which discusses the origin of our words Orange/Laranja in India, and the subsequent use of the same word as a colour.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. I think there is a connection, but you have got it the wrong way around.

    I’m sure it was the Arabs who brought oranges to Europe.
    Maybe in a different region they managed to grow a different kind of orange, the sweet ‘Portugal Orange’ that Guive Mirfendereski mentioned.
    Taking that sweeter, & probably more popular, version of the orange back to Arabian & into North African it would have taken its name from the country exporting it.
    When I was a kid kiwifruits were called Chinese gooseberries, because they are a native plant of China. It was only when commercial cultivation in New Zealand took off that they became widely available here & became know as kiwifruits.

    The ‘full of seeds’ thing in Persian is probably just a coincidence.

    I can understand how Portus Cale could become Portugal just by natural laziness (see: tawdry & St Audrey) especially when different accents get involved. Not that I have any idea what a Latin accent sounded like.

    Very interesting map though. I’m particularly struck by the fact that the pink & dark yellow countries use a variation on the word apple.
    I can’t help but wonder, what is their equivalent of the phrase ‘comparing apples & oranges’ 😀

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Speculation is great, innit. The Wiki for Oranges doesn’t mention any oranges in Europe as early as our theories would suggest. They seem to have arrived in Italy via the crusaders in the C11th but I don’t think Italy was actually invaded was it, so it might be that in Al Andalus they arrived earlier. It’s not mentioned though.

      I don’t really buy this idea that oranges started being called Portugals in Arabic because there was a popular variety of them growing in Portugal. I see what you’re saying about Kiwis, but I think that’s different: firstly because their skin looks like kiwi feathers, secondly because Chinese Gooseberry was always a rubbish name and was never going to last and thirdly, although *we* call them kiwis, you can bet the name hasn’t spread back to the country of origin – China. Likewise, for the Arabs to abandon their own name for oranges just because of some upstart colonials seems… I dunno, I just don’t see it. So I’m still feeling like – whether oranges were actually grown in Portugal, the name was most likely imposed on the country rather than the country on the fruit.

      I googled around a bit and I see Salt of Portugal (who I follow on Twitter but wasn’t following on WordPress until now) has a similar story about Portugal oranges but much later in history and without the link back to Arabic.


    2. Ooh, and another thing about orange names. Not only are some of the names variants of apple but some of the others – Poland and a few smaller eastern European countries – have names that look like they’re related to the french “pomme” and English “pomegranate”. It must be fun being a linguist and having to sort out the patterns from the coincidences.


  3. Cale was a settlement at the mouth of the Douro river of the Callaeci (also known as Gallaeci) tribe of Celts – I looked it up #lazybones

    They fought with Hannibal 🙂
    I mean they fought on his side, not that they were fighting him.

    Liked by 1 person

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