Many tangerines (round orange fruits) are sweet but tangy (piquant flavor or smell), and the beginnings of the words are so similar that they must be etymological twins, right? Wrong. The word tangerine came from the French name for the Moroccan city Tangiers. It is debated whether this comes from Latin or Semitic, but most of my sources claim the latter; that the aforementioned derives from Tigisis. No research has been done further on this, but tigisis probably traces to Afro-Asiatic. Tangy, on the other hand, is an 1875 word from the root tang, which is still in use today as a term meaning "having a strong taste or smell". This might sound somewhat Oriental, but it in fact originates from Middle English and same word, tang, with a different definition; "snake's tongue". This came from Old Norse tangi, "piece of land jutting out" (while metaphorically meaning "tooth" the whole time), which through Proto-Germanic can be traced back to the ultimate etymon, the reconstructed Proto-Indo-European word denk, "to bite" (also the source of tongs, tough, and, surprisingly, zinc).
Adam Aleksic is a 220-month-old, 2800-ounce high school senior with disturbing interests in etymology, vexillology, geography, board games, limericks, and law. Adam will be studying linguistics at Harvard University in the fall.
The Etymology Nerd