How are apples and oranges supposed to be compared?
[Essay Question] How are apples and oranges supposed to be compared? Possible answers involve, but are not limited to, statistics, chemistry, physics, linguistics, and philosophy. —Inspired by Florence Chan, Class of 2015.
To compare two items is to analyze their similarities and differences. As for apple and orange, the comparison is straightforward: both words may serve as nouns, but only orange can be used as an adjective. (Say, my T-shirt is orange, and you have another T- shirt the color of an apple. But you just can’t say, "my T-shirt is apple.") Thus, the question is answered.
Still, it’s natural to ask why. Everyone knows what you’re talking about when you’re talking about either apples or oranges (well, technically everyone except the biologist, since apple refers to a genus rather than a species, and so does orange). Furthermore, when functioning as nouns, the two words have no morphosyntactic differences. Both are count nouns and may become plural by the morphological process of -s suffixation, (hence the wording of the original question). Both may serve as modifiers (apple pie, orange juice, etc.) as well as arguments of verbs (I eat apples, oranges taste delicious, etc.). In other words, you can replace all the apples with oranges in any text without ruining the sentence’s grammaticality.
Then, orange, wherefore art thou also an adjective? Why do you have an extra ability that your peer apple lacks? Since the adjective is more abstract (in terms of concreteness) than the noun, as anything the color of orange may be called orange even if it has nothing to do with an orange, our initial assumption may well be that oranges were deemed more general than apples. Oranges were in the majority, hence having enjoyed the privilege as the standard name of its color. Apples were not so well known, so even now it is merely itself and nothing else.
This explanation sounds plausible at first. But after some consideration, we find it inconsistent with apple’s frequent appearances in idioms (such as apple of one’s eye) and classics (like the famous apple in the Garden of Eden). Everything seems to suggest the opposite, that apples were, and has always been, more popular than oranges. Ergo, we need a detailed analysis of historical semantic change of apple and orange to see how our ancestors perceived the two.
这一解释乍看之下颇为合理，但若细加考察，“apple”却在英文惯用语和各类经典中频频出现，例如表示掌上明珠的“apple of one’s eye”，或是伊甸园中著名的苹果形象。这一切似乎在暗示，恰恰相反，苹果才是一如既往更为大众化的水果。由是观之，为了探究先人究竟如何看待这两者，我们必须纵览历史，详细剖析“apple”和“orange”两词的语义演变。
We start off by looking up apple in the Oxford English Dictionary (OED). After an extensive list of the word’s orthographic variations and cognates in different languages, the OED gave its first definition (A. 1. a.), what is known as apples today. The earliest example, written in Old English, dates back to the year of 885. The word orange, on the other hand, originated in English over one hundred years later, in 1044. So our assumption is formally proved wrong: apple has always been the more familiar and recognized one of the two. But that only strengthened our curiosity.
首先翻开《牛津英语词典》（Oxford English Dictionary）查证“apple”。在事无巨细罗列了该词的异体拼写以及其于各语言中的同根词后，《牛津词典》给出的第一条定义（A. 1. a）与我们现在所说的苹果毫无二致，最早的古英语例句可以追溯到公元885年，而“orange”一词直到一个世纪后的1044年才出现在英语中。至此，我们的假设正式宣告推翻：从古至今，“apple”一直更为人所熟知和注目。但这一发现无疑只是进一步激发了我们的好奇心。
A more careful reading of the OED offers us some helpful clues. In its definition A. 2. a., the OED describes apple as "[a]ny fruit, or similar vegetable production" and provides examples from as early as 1000. In a 1398 book written in Middle English that we can understand, the author mentioned "apples that ben closyd in an harde skynne," or what we today may call nuts. Comparing all the citations listed under the apple entry, we may conclude that apple used to have a much more general meaning, and it wasn’t until the 17th century that semantic narrowing started to preclude other fruits from being named apple.
继续仔细阅读《牛津词典》可以得到更多线索。对于“apple”一词，第二条定义（A. 2. a）描述为“任何水果，或类似的植物果实”，并附上了最早可追溯到11世纪的例句。一本1398年的书以（我们依然可以读懂的）中古英语提及了“apples that ben closyd in an harde skynne”（裹以坚壳之果）——这里让当代读者大惑不解的“apples”，的的确确就是我们如今所说的“坚果”。比照所有这些列在“apple”条目下的例证，可以发现，“apple”一词原先具有远更为广泛的外延，直到17世纪，语义窄化才禁止了其它水果被冠以“apple”之名。
That was poles apart from the case of orange. In fact, orange is so "special" that the OED includes a rare encyclopedic note suggesting that the fruit may have emerged in north India, as the word can be traced to a Sanskrit root. Despite its relatively late appearance in English, the word’s main meaning has never changed. Beginning in the 14th century, when apple was still a general term, orange naturally took on the extended adjectival sense, defined by the OED as "[o]f the colour of an orange."
So, contrary to our assumption, majority does not help one stand out. When a word has too general denotation to identify anything accurately, it somewhat loses its own attributes and its essential values. Eventually, during the process of artificial selection, English speakers had to narrow down the meaning of apple to the fruit of Eve, thereby refreshing the word’s beauty and liveliness.
At the same time, orange has gained its special adjectival status because of its exclusivity. When we think of something orange, an orange is frequently, if not always, the first thing that comes to our mind. The fruit may not be native to the English-speaking areas, but the absorption of the word into English, like the introduction of the fruit to us, adds taste to our language and our life.
Therefore, one needs to find and preserve the defining qualities, for each one is, and should be, beautifully unique. This applies to anyone in a diverse environment, such as a word in the diverse English lexicon, or us ourselves in this diverse world.