Origins of Some Basic Color Words

May 10, 2015 @ MentalFloss

When oranges (the fruit) were exported from India, the word for them was exported too. Sanskrit narangah, or “orange tree,” was borrowed into Persian as narang, “orange (fruit),” which was borrowed into Arabic as naranj, into Italian as arancia, into French as orange, and eventually into English as orange. The color of the fruit was so striking that after borrowing the word and the crop, English speakers eventually began referring to the color by this word as well. Before oranges were imported in the 1500s, the English word for orange (the color) was geoluhread (literally, “yellow-red”).

Amarillo, or “yellow,” is a diminutive form of the Spanish word amargo, which comes from the Latin word amarus, meaning “bitter.” So how did “little bitter” come to be synonymous with “yellow”? In the Middle Ages, medical physicians commonly believed that the human body had four humors. The “bitter humor” referred to bile, which is yellow.

Lots of fancy color words come from flowers or fruits: violet, periwinkle, lavender, lilac, olive, eggplant, pumpkin, and peach, to name a few. In English, pink used to refer exclusively to a flower called a pink, a dianthus which has pale red petals with fringed edges. “Pink” the verb, meaning to cut or tear jaggedly, has been in use in the English language since the early 14th century. Eventually, English speakers forgot the name of the flower, but preserved the word for the color.


Read more at Mental Floss


March 1, 2015 @ Moc

Just few notes for these interesting connections …

In Armenian: կարմիր (karmir) = red. This is an Iranian borrowing. krmʾyr, “red”, Sanskrit किर्मीर (kirmīra, “a variegated color”) and Hebrew כרמיל (karmīl, “crimson, carmine”). Ultimately from the word for “worm”: compare Persian کرم (kerm), Sanskrit कृमि (kṛ́mi).
In Greek: (ο) καρμίρης [karmíris] (masculine); (η) καρμίρα [karmíra] & καρμίρισσα [karmírisa] (feminine):colloquial for a poor, stingy, miserable and mean person (ie. always feeling “in the red” ! lol )

No one could see the color blue until modern times (??)

March 2, 2015 @ BusinessInsiderUK & MoC
A friend sent this article from Business Insider.
We read some of these stories which are being circulated in the web, and as native Greek speakers, we’d like to ask and comment the following cause we find these stories misleading and confusing:
One perhaps should inform these people that the term “κυανός” /kianos/ i.e. “cyan” (you know CYAN as in CMYK??) is an Ancient Greek word, originally meaning “dark blue” (in Modern Greek is “light blue”).

Ancient Greeks also used the term “γλαυκός” /γlafkós/ meaning pale blue, mainly sky or sea blue, the color “γlafkó”.

It’s true, we haven’t re-read the Odyssey since we were in high-school (we can go through it any time though if need be), and we haven’t meticulously counted all the color terms in it, but still, the fact that Homer, a poet, used the description mentioned in the article (“sea as dark wine”) in Odyssey, doesn’t really mean that people back then couldn’t perceive the blue color; and Homer was blind anyway. But Homer was a poet, and poets, you know, are free to describe things anyway they wish, that’s what poets are for! Rationalism kills poetry and art and it’s such a poor approach. If one counted on fauvist painters to tell them about the natural world, what would one say then about their black skies, blue suns, purple tree trunks etc?

Also, just because a 1858’s UK scholar counted 200 blacks and 150 whites in Odyssey it doesn’t mean Ancient Greeks “lived in murky and muddy world, devoid of color, mostly black and white and metallic, with occasional flashes of red or yellow”, and it certainly doesn’t make Gladstone an authority to say ancient Greeks lacked color terms for blue.

Last, one should add that the term “sky blue” is one of the most fundamental in many (ancient) languages, for the SKY was (and is) so important to so many (the ancient/tribal) people!

Now, if you go through a (modern) dictionary or vocabulary or list word of some moribund language or dialect (or any other widely spoken language whatsoever) prepared, relatively recently, by some linguist in some remote place (or not), in all chances you won’t find terms like “purple”, “pink”, “orange” etc. This doesn’t necessarily mean that the language/idiom/dialect doesn’t include a term for these meanings, but most probably that the linguist conducting the research didn’t care to include these terms in the dictionary/vocabulary/list word, making future researchers scratch their heads about why these terms are not listed and if people were/are blind to these colors…

We copy/past the following from the Dictionary of Standard Modern Greek

κυανός -ή -ό [kianós] : (λόγ.) γαλάζιος. || (ως ουσ.) το κυανό, το κυανό χρώμα.
kianos-i-o: (adj, masc/fem/neut) galazios-a-o (i.e. bright blue) (adj. cyan)|| (as noun) kiano (neutral): the cyan color
[λόγ. < αρχ. κυαν(οῦς) `σκούρος μπλε΄ μεταπλ. -ός κατά τα άλλα επίθ. για προσαρμ. στη δημοτ. (πρβ. και μσν. κυανός)]
(ancient: kianous : “dark blue”; later : kianos)

γλαυκός -ή -ό [γlafkós] : ανοιχτός γαλάζιος, απόχρωση κυρίως του ουρανού ή της θάλασσας. || (ως ουσ.) το γλαυκό, το γλαυκό χρώμα.
[λόγ. < αρχ. γλαυκός]
glaukos-i-o (γlafkós) (adj. masc/fem/neut): bright “galazio”, mainly the color of the sky or the sea || (as noun) γlafkó:  the color γlafkó
[ancient: γlafkós]

Darah Putih

January 2, 2015 @ MoC

“Darah putih” (lit. “white blood”). A Malay of noble ancestry, his/her blood is white, not blue. This idiom may be linked to the tragic legendary Princess Mahsuri of Langkawi Island. Accused of adultery by her jealous mother-in-law, Mahsuri was executed by a dagger. It is said that white blood flowed out as a proof of her innocence. Sultan Alaudin Riayat Shah 1 who ruled Malacca was said to be related to Mahsuri. After his death, he came to be known as Marhum Berdarah Putih.

[MALAY LANGUAGE @ MoC ColorCorpus]

Mirriam-Webster 3rd Edition and Color Definitions

October 31, 2014 @ Slate

[…] The color definitions in the Third were very carefully engineered in accordance with Gove’s vision of a dictionary that was not only completely objective and precise, but was also the most scientifically minded dictionary of its day. One only need look as far as the masthead of the Third to see the lengths that Gove went to: 202 lengths, all listed under the tidy heading, “Outside Consultants.” These consultants were pedigreed and heavily degreed experts in their respective fields, and their job was to provide direction for specialty areas that in-house editors may not have had much experience with, such as the Mayan calendar, traffic regulations, and (gasp) coffee. Gove took his color definitions seriously. There are seven consultants listed for color; there are only four total consultants for mathematics and physics.

The color definitions in the Third are a meeting of old and new. The chief color consultant for the Third was Isaac H. Godlove, a man whose name means nothing to you unless you study the history of color theory. Since fewer people study the history of color theory than do lexicography full time, I will tell you that Godlove was the chairman of the Committee of Measurement and Specification of the Inter-Society Color Council, a member of the Colorimetry Committee of the Optical Society, director of the Munsell Research Laboratory (which gave rise to the Munsell Color Co., a company that was evidently formed specifically to standardize colors), and a guy whose business cards must have been double-thick fold-out jobbies. He was also the color consultant forWebsterSecond New International Dictionary.

For Websters Second, Dr. Godlove developed a system of defining colors by hue, saturation, and brilliance. Cherry, for instance, is defined in the Second as “A bright-red color; specif., a color, yellowish-red in hue, of very high saturation and medium brilliance.” If this doesn’t call to mind an exact color—and I don’t see how it could unless you were a colorimetrist—the Second helpfully requests that you also see the entry for color. The entry for color is three columns long in the Second, begins with the label “Psychophysics,” and includes a lively discussion on the different ways to measure hue, the nature of light waves, and the neurochemical impulses that, when combined, potentially yield the sensation we refer to as “color.” There are graphs and two color plates. It is serious business.

Godlove’s work as a colorist was brilliant, and Gove likely knew it. (He may have been a workaholic perfectionist who pioneered the Rule of Silence, but he wasn’t a moron.) To duplicate this sort of defining system would have cost time and money, and Gove hated anything that breathed inefficiency. It seemed best, then, to use the framework that Godlove had set up for the Second.

There was one snag: These standardized definitions that appealed to an objective standard set up by The Standards People couldn’t stand on their own. Every definition followed the same pattern: “a color, [color name] in hue, of [high/medium/low] saturation, and [high/medium/low] brilliance Cf. COLOR.” But apart from one reference to an indistinct and very subjectively observed color, like “yellowish yellow-green” at “holly green,” there was nothing in the definition to orient the casual reader apart from the color plates given at the colossal brain-twisting entry at color. And, of course, there weren’t color swatches for every color defined in the Second. “Holly green” is only the yellowish yellow-green that is of low saturation and medium brilliance, whatever that may be.

Gove called Godlove back in to work on the color definitions of the Third, and to entice him, he gave him a team of color theorists to boss around. As astonishing as it sounds, color names had been increasingly standardized since the 1930s, and their use had even been analyzed in mass-marketing—very sciencey!—and these guidelines and findings were to be incorporated into the Third. Who better to do this than the man who helped pioneer color standards? […]

Read the whole article at Slate

Colorful Victorian Slang

September 8, 2014 @ MoC

Victorian Slang 1:
“Mistresses (known as one’s ‘Convenient’) were not uncommon – a mistress being a lover you had alongside your wife, who you bought with presents and money and even housing. While a man’s legal wife was called a LAWFUL BLANKET, a WIFE IN WATER COLOURS was a mistress, or concubine; water colours being, like their engagements, easily effaced, or dissolved.”

Victorian Slang No2:
“There was also a medical condition known as GREEN SICKNESS, which was the disease of maids occasioned by celibacy. Green sickness was also called “the disease of virgins” or “lover’s fever” and was seen as a common disorder affecting young unmarried girls. Its symptoms included weakness, dietary disturbance, lack of menstruation and most significantly, a change in skin colour. Understanding of the condition turned puberty and virginity into medical problems, and proposed to cure the girls suffering from it by bloodletting, diet, exercise, and marriage. Another name for green sickness was Chlorosis, a form of chronic anemia, primarily of young women, characterized by a greenish-yellow discoloration of the skin and usually associated with deficiency in iron and protein.”

Victorian Slang No3:
“It is assumed that the Victorians were quite a prudish lot. Frank discussions about anything, least of all sex, were strictly taboo. Many euphemisms were products of the Victorian Era. For instance, a leg of poultry became a “drumstick”, thighs became “dark meat”, and breasts became “white meat”***.

*** White Meat: A Victorian term still often used in America for the breast meat of a chicken or turkey, which the British call breast. “May I have some breast?” Winston Churchill once asked his American hostess at a buffet luncheon. “In this country, Mr. Churchill, we say white meat or dark meat”, his hostess replied, a little prissily. Churchill apologized and the next day sent her an orchid along with a card reading, “I would be most obliged if you would pin this on your white meat”. White meat and dark meat are also derogatory slang terms applied to white or black men and women, usually in a sexual sense.