Oranges are apples, here in the Netherlands

I’ve been in Netherlands for about ten days now. I attended the Queen’s Day parade in Amsterdam, wearing a big orange hat and giant-sized orange sunglasses that make the world look 10 shades brighter. My studio apartment in Delft, overlooks a 14th century church, dedicated to the royal family of William of Orange, and I’ve been eyeing this bright orange beer mug, stocked along with 1,000 other kinds of orange memorabilia at the local Blokker (a home-store). It is after all, the land of Oranje (pronounced: Oran-ye).

The party carries on… Amsterdam, May 30, 2012
and on…

After all this, last night I was gobsmacked to learn that all of the Oranges in Netherlands – the rulers, the colours, the teams, and the slogans –actually have nothing to do with the fruit. In fact, in Netherlands, an orange is not even called an orange. It’s called a Sinaasappel! Imagine that.

How did I discover this great anomaly in the sands of language and history? Like all great things, over a glass of beer. We were out with few friends, discovering new kinds of beer at Locus Publicus, a pub in Delft which boasts of 365 different kinds of beer. As stories about Queen’s Day, foreigners lost in translation and Google translate did the rounds of the table, one of our friends went into flashback 2009. On Queen’s Day, another Indian friend from their circle, someone I haven’t met yet, showed up for the parade with a big fat orange (yes, the fruit this time) strung around his neck like a pendant. Apparently all the international students who saw him cracked up instantly. But, the Dutch weren’t amused, mostly because they didn’t get the joke! For them it wasn’t an orange strung around his neck, but an apple, remember. And, well, colour-codedness apart, it just didn’t make sense to them!
I swear on the several hundred oranges that I will go on to eat in my lifetime, I was shocked. I confirmed this about a hundred times – so Oranje has nothing to do with oranges? The colour, orange, is not because of the fruit? Really? So, oranges are not the national fruit of Netherlands? Oranges are not even called Oranges?
As an avid follower of World Cup soccer, I always knew that the Dutch team went by the moniker Oranje, but looking at the colour of their uniform and going by an ingrained association of the colour with the fruit and the fruit with the term, for me Oranje came complete with citrus qualities. Not much longer though.
I now know that the term Oranje comes from the royal family, more precisely from William I, Prince of Oranje, also known in Dutch history as William The Silent. Born in 1533, as the Count of Nassau-Dillenburg, in 1544 he inherited the title of Prince of Orange from his cousin, Rene of Chalon.
The title originally referred to nobility from the Principality of Orange, as small part of Southern France today. According to one blog I came across, the lands of Orange were historically a lot more significant under the Roman Empire. They belonged to a Celtic settlement called Arausio (a Celtic water god), but after the Celts were defeated a legion of Roman soldiers settled here in 35 BC and Orange became the capital of the Northern Provence.
Once William I inherited the title, their family took the title House of Orange-Nassau. William of Orange also came to be known as the Father of the Fatherland, because of his effort in the Dutch war of independence from Spanish rule. William, who made his home in the tiny town in Delft, was assassinated there in 1584 by Balthasar Gerard, four years after being declared an outlaw by the Spanish government. He was buried in the Nieuwe Kerk, a 14th century church at the centre of Delft, which is the burial ground of the Dutch royal family even today.
The New Church of Delft
So far, there aren’t any fruits in their history, are there? Interestingly, the royal coat of arms of the Principality of Orange (which seems yellowish) appears to have some fruit on it, I would love to hazard a guess and say they’re oranges, but we’ve been wrong about that before, haven’t we.
The coat of arms of the Principality of Orange (image: Wikipedia)

According to a branch of etymology, the term ‘orange’, could have its roots in the Sanskrit word for the fruit – Narangi. Bitter oranges from Persia were introduced to Italy in 11th century, while the Portuguese traders brought sweet oranges from India to Europe in the 15th century. However, the first recorded use of the term ‘orange’ for the colour dates back to 1512, and that too in someone’s will!

The dichotomy between oranges and Oranje is emblematic of socio-cultural differences that languages can espouse. After all, for those of us who learnt our alphabet with O-for Orange, accompanied by a picture of a bright orange fruit, to imagine a world where the colour and the fruit are not co-related is almost science fiction!

One comment

  1. this is just to say I was here :)and to request that you add more posts soon!I have been a huge fan of your writing and it will be and absolute pleasure to read more from you…more once i read the post.

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