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What about red hair? Everyone I talk to admits that it is more orangey than anthing else. So how did this expression come about?

Well, I know German and English, which are very closely related, both being of the West-Germanic classification. So I figure that analyzing one language may well help us to understand the other. And by the way, the Germans have an analogous term: rothaarig means "red-haired."

How do you say the color "orange" in German? Why, it's spelled just the same way! But this word was borrowed from the Old French orenge at some point, which refers to the fruit. You see, Germans had and still have their own term for that juicy treat: Apfelsine. (Interestingly, this compound word breaks down to mean "apple from China," which is indeed the country of origin.)

Anyway, what do you suppose the color was called in German before the French got involved? That's just the point; it wasn't! Way back in the Middle Ages, there was no German word for "orange," and furthermore, the first ever record of the term in English dates back to 1380, according to the American Heritage Dictionary. Before that time, it's a good bet that neither language had such sophisticated color distinctions, calling orange things either yellow or red, according to the shade.

Connecting this hypothesis to the issue of "red" hair may seem desultory and specious. However, funny things happen as languages develop - and this just might be one of them.

--Nowadays of course, there are people with real red hair, thanks to the wonderful invention of hair dye. However, I doubt that this practice was widespread enough in the 13th century to have an impact on at least two different languages.

Ichiro2k3 actually took the trouble to check out the dates: "OED gives the first citation of 'red' hair in '1500-20' and the word 'orange' for color in 1542. Twenty-two years is not very significant, but this explanation still could be correct." Thanks a bunch.

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