A. You’re going to listen to a dictionary expert talking on the radio about the origin of the words below.

● ketchup     ● orange     ● tennis

1   Which word’s origin is related to a legend?

2   Which word changed its form because the original word was hard for the English to say?

3   Which word originated from the way the English pronounced a foreign word?

B. Listen again and complete the summaries with one or more words.


The original sauce was invented by 1__________. It was made from 2__________. British explorers first tried it in the 3__________ century, and really liked it. Later some colonists from 4__________ mixed 5__________ into it, and it became the sauce it is today.


This word, and also the word for orange in 6__________ and 7__________, doesn’t come from 8__________, it comes from ancient Sanskrit. The Sanskrit word, ‘narangah’, may come from ‘naga ranga’ which means 9__________. The story is that an 10__________ once ate so many that he 11__________, and some orange trees grew from his 12__________.


The sport started in 13__________. It was 14__________ called ‘tenez’ which means 15__________. The sport 16__________ there and became popular in 17__________. But the ‘tenez’ sounded more like ‘tennis’ when it was said with an 18__________.



1 orange   2 ketchup   3 tennis


1 the Chinese

2 fish and spices

3 18th

4 American / the USA / New England

5 tomatoes

6 Spanish

7 Italian

8 Latin

9 poison for elephants

10 elephant

11 died

12 stomach

13 France

14 originally

15 ‘Here you are’

16 lost popularity

17 England

18 English accent


J = John, S = Sally

J    Now it’s time for our regular Wednesday afternoon spot about words and their origins. And I have with me, as usual, our English language expert, Sally Davies. So what are the three words you are going to tell us about today, Sally?

S   Hell, John. My three words today are ‘ketchup’, ‘orange’, – that’s the fruit, the colour came later – , and ‘tennis’.

J    Let’s start with ‘ketchup’ then.

S   Yes, well, the Chinese invented a sauce called ‘ke-tsiap’, spelled K-E-hyphen-T-S-I-A-P in the 1690s. It was made from fish and spices, but absolutely no tomatoes. By the early eighteenth century, its popularity had spread to Malaysia, and this is where British explorers first found it, and obviously really liked it. By 1740 the sauce was part of the English diet – people were eating a lot of it and it was also becoming popular in the American colonies. And they renamed the sauce ‘ketchup’, because it was a bit easier for the English to pronounce. Then about fifty years later, in 1790, some American colonists in New England mixed tomatoes into the sauce and it became known as ‘tomato ketchup’.

J    So it is American after all?

S   Well, tomato ketchup is.

J    So, tell us about ‘orange’?

S   Well, it’s very interesting that neither ‘orange’ in English nor ‘naranja’ in Spanish or ‘arancia’ in Italian, come from the Latin word for ‘orange’, which was ‘citrus aurentium’. Instead they, they all come from the ancient Sanskrit word ‘narangah’. There is also an interesting story about where this word, ‘narangah’, comes from. It’s said that it comes from ‘naga ranga’, which literally means ‘poison for elephants.’

J    Poison for elephants?

S   Yes, apparently, one day in around the 7th or 8th century BC an elephant was passing through the forest, when he found a tree which he had never seen before. This tree was full of beautiful, tempting oranges; as a result, the elephant ate so many that he died. Many years later a man came to the same spot and noticed the remains of the elephant with some orange trees growing from what had been its stomach. The man then exclaimed, ‘These fruit are naga ranga’ that is, ‘poison for elephants’.

J    So is this true?

S   Well, I don’t know, but it’s a nice story!

J    And finally our last word is ‘tennis’.

S   This is my favourite one, and it shows that the English have always had their own special way of pronouncing foreign languages. Tennis is a sport which first developed in France. The name was originally ‘tenez’, which is from the French verb ‘tenir’, which means in this case, something like ‘Here you are’. Players used to say ‘tenez’ when they hit the ball meaning something like ‘there, try to get this one’. But the sport lost popularity in France and gained popularity in England at the same time. So, English people were still using the word ‘tenez’ each time they hit the ball, but they were saying it with the English accent which sounded more like ‘tennis’, and eventually it took this new spelling. Then the sport gained popularity worldwide and was taken up by many nationalities, including the French – but they now had to call it ‘le tennis’!

J    Fascinating! Well, thank you very much for those three words, Sally, and we’ll look forward to next week’s programme.

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