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This blog is about the fascinating, fun, and challenging things about the English language. I hope to entertain you and to help you with problems or just questions you might have with spelling and usage. I go beyond just stating what is right and what is wrong, and provide some history or some tips to help you remember. Is something puzzling you? Feel free to email me at wordlady.barber@gmail.com.
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Friday, November 21, 2014

Oh my darling, oh my darling...

I love this time of year, when the first crates of the aptly named Citrus nobilis var. deliciosa arrive in the grocery stores. Yum. How did this easy-peel, seedless cross between a Mediterranean mandarin (tangerine) and a sweet orange come by its more common name: clementine?

We owe it to a French priest, Father Clément Rodier, who first cultivated the hybrid, accidentally, it seems, in 1902 near Oran, Algeria.

This has absolutely nothing to do with the heroine -- daughter of a "miner, forty-niner" -- of the famous ballad dating from the 1880s. Her name, a feminine form of the French Clément, was fairly popular in the US in  the 19th century but slid progressively out of fashion in the 20th, finally disappearing off the charts in the fifties. Although her name is unambiguously pronounced to rhyme with "tine", the fruit can rhyme with "tine" or "teen". I myself say "teen", mostly because I first encountered the fruit in France, but, as a result, I have been roundly teased by other Canadians (for whom "tine" seems to be the overwhelming favourite) for being pretentious. What do you say? (That is, "How do you pronounce this?", not "Am I pretentious?")

Most of our clementines in Canada come from Morocco, and their older cousins the tangerines have a connection with the same country, for they are named after the Moroccan port of Tangier.

Both are subcategories of the mandarin orange, of Chinese origin, which is possibly so-called in reference to the rich yellow colour of the robes of the upper echelon bureaucrats in the imperial Chinese civil service.

Learn more fascinating word stories by taking my "Rollicking Story of the English Language" course: http://katherinebarber.blogspot.ca/p/history-of-english-language-courses.html

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About Me

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Canada's Word Lady, Katherine Barber is an expert on the English language and a frequent guest on radio and television. She was Editor-in-Chief of the Canadian Oxford Dictionary. Her witty and informative talks on the stories behind our words are very popular. Contact her at wordlady.barber@gmail.com to book her for speaking engagements; she can tailor her talks to almost any subject. She is also available as an expert witness for lawsuits.