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A pair of Mandarin oranges
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Today, when Chinese people celebrate the New Year, there's a tradition to offer each other Mandarin oranges. As many sources say, the Mandarin oranges should be offered in pairs, since the phrase "a pair of Mandarin oranges" is a homophone to "the gold".

Obviously, 柑桔 [gan1 ju2] or 瓯柑 [ou1 gan1] are not homophones to 金 [jin1].

Some sources say that 柑 [gan1] is a homophone (or close) to Cantonese 金 [gam1], which does not sound very convincing for me.

So I suppose there's some older/dialectal pronunciation of one of these phrases (or both) that makes a closer match.

So the question is: What are the exact words of the phrase "a pair of Mandarin oranges" which form a homophone to "the gold"?

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It is due to the colour more than anything else. –  Question Overflow Jan 31 at 2:22
    
Orange is golden color but I have never heard people give mandarin oranges to each other to celebrate the New Year. –  Ethan Jan 31 at 5:02
    
In Cantonese, the two characters definitely sound similar. Note that the last "consonant" on the Cantonese romanization actually isn't as "stressed" as it might be in English or another language (though part of it might be my occasionally inaccurate Cantonese pronunciation). –  user3410 Jan 31 at 7:45
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Hello: As far as I see from the network, the habit comes from GuangDong (ShanTou province), because a pair of madarin oranges mean (大吉,great lucky in GuangDong,Shantou), and they tend to send a pair of oranges for lucky. But I don't know about the habit having anything to do with money (the gold). –  CA55CE37 Jan 31 at 8:46

1 Answer 1

up vote 5 down vote accepted

Actually 金 and 柑 are both pronounced gam1 in Cantonese, according to Rita Mei-Wah Choy’s ‘Read and Write Chinese’.

While it may be better to refer to Shantou as Chaozhou (潮州), I think CA55CE37 is onto something here. Indeed, in chaozhouhua 大橘/桔 (orange) and 大吉 (great luck) are apparently near homophones. A Thai source I have mentions this as well and asserts that oranges are given out at weddings for this reason. In Thailand, people from the Chaozhou region are dominant in the Chinese community, as you probably know. And oranges are given for the New Year holiday too (we live in Bangkok and received two oranges from our Thai-Chinese neighbors just yesterday, as it happens.) It may be simply that two is an even number and thus auspicious.

So, there are various words for orange/tangerine (there is also 橙) and various rationalizations for giving people fruit during holidays, depending on local dialect and local tradition. I wouldn’t be surprised to learn of more wordplay of this nature, for instance the link between pomelos and ‘to have’.

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