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No Rhyme, But Plenty of Reason
Nestled in the meaty curve between yellow and red, orange may be a secondary color, but it takes a backseat to no one.
So, in chasing orange down to its roots, we found intriguing facts ranging from the historical to the comical.
Ancient Egyptians used the orange-red pigment from the mineral realgar to spruce up their tombs.
During the Roman Empire, pigments from the mineral orpiment were widely sought after in the open market, first as a medicine (which was weird because it contained arsenic and was highly toxic), then as a weapon, used on the tips of poisoned arrows (which made a lot more sense).
Because of its yellow-orange tones, it was a favorite among alchemists seeking a shortcut to make gold.
Despite its wide usage, up through the late 1400s, it was a color without a name, and was simply referred to by the Old English term of geoluhread (which means yellow-red).
However, by the end of the 15th century, Portuguese merchants had introduced the first orange trees to Europe and Asia. From there the original Asian label evolved from something close to “laranja” to the Spanish “naranja” to the English “orange.”
Which incidentally, makes it the only color (other than chartreuse) to be named after a thing.
It’s also why Henry VIII was referred to as a “redhead”—orange trees and the color orange didn’t exist while he was wedding wives and making being a redhead The Blonde Bombshell of his day.
In the 16th and 17th centuries, The House of Orange-Nassau was among the top royal houses in Europe, and in 1689, William III of Orange ruled as King of England.
Thanks to William III, orange became an important political color throughout Britain and Europe, and today, the official flag of New York City bears an orange stripe in honor of this influential family.
By combining the energy of red with the happiness of yellow, orange has long been associated with the feelings and emotions of warmth, enthusiasm, creativity, success, health, fun and fascination. So, if orange were a people, they’d be the ones who “lit up a room the moment they walked in.” But beware - as pure orange (a brass tone) suggests a lack of serious intellectual values and bad taste (insert your own political observation here).
Studies have shown that the presence of orange not only aids in digestion, but increases sexual potency (which makes you wonder if that’s the case, then why is Viagra blue?).
The various shades of orange on the big RGB color wheel are downright colorful, ranging from papaya whip to melon to basic brown.
In professional sports, it’s one of the official colors for the Cincinnati Bengals, San Francisco 49ers, Baltimore Orioles, Philadelphia Flyers and others.
For college teams, actual tones have been created—and named—after the schools, including Princeton Orange, Syracuse Orange and UT Orange (and just to be clear, that’s Tennessee and NOT Texas!).
Because of orange’s high visibility in darkness, it’s often associated with danger and used as a “safety color” for highway signs, traffic cones, toxic substance warnings, life jackets and jackets for construction workers and hunters. Many astronaut suits have used orange as they can be seen from space or against blue waters (we assume it’s the same reasoning behind Tang as well). Prisoners are often dressed in orange to make them easier to spot during an escape (and after all, it is the new black). And oddly enough, an aircraft’s “black box” which records flight data and cockpit voices is actually bright orange and thus, more easily found.
If you’ve ever wondered why orange and black are so closely associated with Halloween, it’s because as polar opposites in meaning, they’re the ideal yin/yang coloring for this holiday. While black represents death, orange represents warmth, the autumn harvest of squash and pumpkins and other reassuring aspects in nature.
And finally, as any self-respecting poet or lyricist can tell you, “there ain’t no rhyme for orange.”