Posted by: Brad Nixon | January 29, 2011

Rhymes With Orange

Nothing rhymes with “orange,” you say? At least no word you can think of in the English language? Nay, nay. There is such a word, and Under Western Skies is here to assist you in winning countless bets from friends, acquaintances and smart-aleck know-it-alls in bars everywhere.

It’s not a “word” in the sense of being another fruit or a tool or or, as Groucho would say, something you might find every day around the house. It’s a place-name. But it’s a well-documented one, and unless the crowd in the bar seems particularly feisty or argumentative, you should be able to get away with this one.

Our story takes us to the beautiful landscape of southeastern Wales, near Abergavenny (and here you learn your first word in Welsh: aber, meaning “mouth of the river,” in this case the mouth of the River Gafenni or Gavenny).

In looking up some facts to support this article, I learned that Abergavenny started out as a Roman fort, prior to becoming a medieval walled city. It’s Latin name was Gobannium. Now, I wondered, did the Romans Latinize the local River Gafenni name and harden the “v” to “b,” or did some medieval consonant shift take it the other way after the Romans found it prudent to withdraw, making the “b” into a “v?” This is the sort of thing that sets linguists on fire, combing through ancient manuscripts and stone tablets. It’s also the sort of amateur etymology that the late John Ciardi always warned us against. Without the benefit of a great deal of supporting education, our seat-of-the-pants guess is going to be wrong, especially with an unfamiliar language like Welsh. However, if we can trust the volunteer who contributed the entry to Wikipedia, you can read more about the origin of that word. CLICK HERE.

You can be certain that if you’re touring around Abergavenny, the locals will play some sort of gag on you about words rhyming with orange. This will end with them laughing good-naturedly and pointing to a big mountain looming over you and delivering the punch line, “Right there. That mountain. That’s The Blorenge!” Go along with it and have a laugh. The Welsh have had it tough. How tough? There’s a World Heritage Site nearby, the Blaenavon Industrial Lanscape World Heritage Site. THAT is how tough it is in the coal country.

The country around there looks like this.

That’s a forty year-old 35mm slide showing my cousin John, in the white hair, talking Welsh with a shepherd we encountered driving a back road in the mountains. If you click on the photo, it’ll get larger, but not much clearer.

“Blorenge” is the anglicized version of a Welsh word, blorens. Do not ask me what blorens means because my Welsh dictionary is packed away somewhere in the garage and I don’t want to dig for it (and, yes, I do have a Welsh dictionary, though not a very well-worn one). If you try Google’s translator, it’ll tell you that the English for blorens is “blorenge,” a definition so circular that Webster’s itself couldn’t improve upon it.

Perhaps blorens/Blorenge is merely a place-name in Welsh, too, with whatever that word signified now lost in the dim chthonic past. These days, I’m satisfied with less than complete answers to life’s etymological mysteries. I can be, in fact, satisfied by asking, seemingly casually, “I’ll bet you five dollars you can’t think of a word that rhymes with orange!”

© Brad Nixon 2011, 2016

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Responses

  1. i love it

    Like


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