On tangerines and mandarins, clementines and satsumas
When discussing words used “in common practice” by a speech community comprising on the order of a billion speakers (~40% L1 + ~60% L2) distributed across the entire planet, sweeping generalities of usage are next to impossible.
Technical usage by scientists recognizes all of these things as various species and cultivars under the Citrus genus, but when they do so they use taxonomic binomials bearing little to no relationship to the words commonly used by these fruit. And even at the technical level, citrus taxonomy is confusing.
When used as a commonplace marketing term, words like tangerine and mandarin have no technical meaning, especially not one that is recognized across all corporations everywhere.
- I have seen the very same fruit marketed by one company under one name but by another company under another.
- I have seen quite different common names for them in America as in Australia, and I have seen common names shift over time.
- It is the people who live in areas where these fruit are grown who are the most likely to make fine distinctions between them, distinctions that are either lost or at least unrecognized by people who live in colder climes.
- I have seen residents of citrus-producing regions argue passionately about whether the clementine is larger, sweeter, and juicier than the mandarin, or whether the opposite relationship holds — and then when a sample specimen is presented them, each party in that dispute calls that fruit by a different name.
*I have heard others argue that a mandarin must automatically “be” an orange not a tangerine because of the historic collocation mandarin orange.
Wikipedia reports in their article on the tangerine:
The name was first used for fruit coming from Tangier, Morocco, described
as a mandarin variety. Under the Tanaka classification
system, Citrus tangerina is considered a separate species. Under
the Swingle system, tangerines are considered to be a group of
mandarin (C. reticulata) varieties. While tangerines
genetically resemble mandarins, the genetics are still not
thoroughly studied.[dubious – discuss] The term
is currently applied to any reddish-orange mandarin
(and, in some jurisdictions, mandarin-like hybrids, including some
tangors), but the term "tangerine" may yet acquire a
definite genetic meaning.
In the United States, the “tangerine group” (non-oranges) have taken off in recent years, so people are finally starting to notice them. However, not everybody calls them the same thing. My nieces call the little ones cuties to mirror a brand name. That said, I don’t think they’ve ever tried a kumquat, which gives me a delightful idea for a Christmas stocking stuffer!