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  • Susan "Zuzu" Skelly

Redhead, Not Orangehead!

A great question came in! A student asked “Why do Americans say Ron Weasley’s hair is red? I think it’s orange.” In truth, students of English and native speakers of English sometimes wonder this.

This Photo by Unknown Author is licensed under CC BY-SA

Can you guess which use of “orange” came first: a way to describe a color or the name of a fruit? If you guessed “the name of a fruit”, you’d be right!

“Orange” did not describe the color orange until the 1540s, but redheads have been around for a lot longer than that. The word “redhead” probably came about because of the simple need to have a way of describing the hair color before we started using the name of the fruit to describe its own color, and colors close to it.

Interestingly, the color you know as orange was geoluhread in Old English, which means “yellow-red”. Geoluhread is pronounced like /ˈje͜o.luˌræ͜ɑːd/

Try saying it!

Now, if you’re like me, you’re wondering where the name of the fruit comes from. If you look in an English dictionary, you might see something like this:

At first glance, English took the word from French. However, going further back, we see that the word for the fruit has Persian roots. It went through Arabic and French, which each made small changes to it, before becoming the English “orange”.

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