We might be on a different continent now, but as the crow flies we’ve travelled only thirty-six miles. We’ve arrived in Tangier – the third-largest and northernmost city in Morocco, on Africa’s far northwest coast.
As we’ll soon discover, African place names in our language are fairly thin on the ground (especially compared with the etymological gold we were able to mine back in Europe). But of all the African nations, Morocco has more to offer us than most.
Where is Tangier, Morocco? – Tangier, Morocco Map – Tangier, Morocco Map Download Free Photo Gallery
The instantly recognisable fez hat, for instance, apparently owes its existence to the Moroccan city of the same name. At least one theory about the origin of the ouija board is that it takes its name (via some suitably mysterious connection) from the city of Oujda, close to the Morocco-Algeria border. And even Morocco itself has given its name to a type of light, flexible leather; through punning confusion between this morocco leather, buff leather, and buff as a colloquialism for ‘nakedness’, to be in your morocco meant ‘to be unclothed’ in nineteenth-century slang.
None of these words and phrases are what has brought us to Tangier, however. Instead, we’re here for the humble tangerine. When it first appeared in the English language in the early eighteenth century, tangerine was an adjective merely describing anything deriving from or akin to the city of Tangier. By the 1800s, however, a smaller, sweeter-tasting variety of orange was beginning to appear in English fruit bowls originating in the orange groves of northern Africa. Squatter and less round in shape than an ordinary orange, the fruit became known as the tangerine in honour of the Atlantic port from which they were imported into Britain; the earliest known reference to a tangerine orange dates from 1842.
But just as there was no word in English for the colour orange until oranges began to be imported into England in the Middle Ages, not long after tangerines began to appear in England the word tangerine itself became the name of a deep shade of orange, darker and richer in tone than other similar colours. In this context, the word was first used in 1899, and both it and the fruit from which it derives have remained in common use ever since.
A more commonly held explanation of the word ouija is that it’s a seemingly random amalgamation of the French and German words for ‘yes’, oui and ja. This is by no means a watertight theory, however, and the similarity between ouija and the city of Oujda certainly can’t be discounted. According to a popular tale from occult folklore, however, the ouija board actually named itself.
At a seance in Baltimore held by one of the ouija board’s inventors, Charles Kennard, in 1890, the then unnamed board was reportedly asked what it would like to call itself; in response, it spelled out the letters O-U-I-J-A. When the group then asked what that word meant, the board supposedly replied, ‘GOOD LUCK’. It was only after the seance was over that one of the attendees, Baltimore socialite Helen Peters Nosworthy, opened a locket that she was wearing around her neck to reveal a picture of a young woman with the name OUIDA written beneath it. Peters, it transpired, was a fan of the British novelist Maria Louise de la Ramee, who published a number of best-selling romance and adventure my blogs in the late nineteenth century under the pen name ‘Ouida’; the coincidence, regardless of the curious misspelling, was too strange to ignore.