Worldbuilding Wednesday 9/20/23: Shades of Orange

Orange is a color that literally didn’t exist in the English language before the 16th century. When people wanted to describe an orange hue, they used word composites like yellow-red or red-gold, or sometimes saffron. Only after Portuguese merchants began to import orange trees to Europe did the shade receive a name. In France the fruit was called pomme d’orange, which was picked up, eventually, by the English, with the pomme dropped; after many decades of describing things that were “orange-colored” the qualifier too, was dropped, and orange officially became, well, orange.

Because of this, orange does not have many cultural connections in the Western world. In the Eastern world, however, it is the color of monks and mystics, as in the robe of the AI-generated fellow above. The original root of the word is from ancient India, the Dravidian narandam/naranja, the bitter orange fruit. The color was thought to embody both the peacefulness of yellow and the strength of red, making it the perfect color for enlightenment in Hinduism and Buddhism.

In recent decades orange has come to represent the color of Autumn and the harvest and, of course, Halloween, where it shares duties with black. It is the color of pumpkin spice, which Starbucks has used for its seasonal lattes and Frappuccinos since 2003; the flavor has been so successful every fall brings shipments of pumpkin flavored Oreos, breakfast cereal, donuts,  and coffee creamer to grocery stores.

Orange can have weirder connotations. In Tanith Lee’s The Secret Books of Paradys series, the fourth volume is a lushly written horror tale set in an alternate world version of Paris. Orange denotes madness in three intertwining tales: an actress who has a nervous breakdown in the “present” (1990s); a young Victorian girl whose first sexual experience does not go well at all; and a pair of incestuous siblings in the far future who are menaced by a giant Emperor Penguin. Yes, you read that right, the penguin is revered across all three stories for the orange patch of color beneath its chin. The Book of Orange is perhaps my favorite of the four books for the strength and power of its imagery and, like all of Lee’s writing, an acquired taste. But if you want to see the power of color to convey themes and emotion, read it.

Here’s some descriptors for orange.


Shades of Orange

Florida Papaya

Latin Millionaire

Pumpkin Eater

Peach Curry

Saffron Seas

Gemstone Ginger

Whisper of Blaze

Rumba Rust

Fields of Orange

Squash Blossom

Desert Hush

Kingdoms of Apricot

Spicy Magma

Cottage Flowers

Touch o’ the Outback

Paprika Dynasty

Terracotta Tangerine

Blushing Copper

Pumpkin Flame

Mojave Saffron

Orangery Visit

Cheddar Cream

New World Mango


Secret Squash

Tincture of Rust

Sun’s Dawn

Peach Crayon

Papaya Marigold

Pumpkin Turmeric

Indian Copper

Adobe Dweller

Tawny Tickle

Madras Peach

Orange Honeycomb

Ginger Coals

Orange Ignition

Flaming Amber

Moroccan Peach

Brazilian Gemstone


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