Colorful Language

Colorful Language

Anyone who walks into the paint chip section of a store can tell you that there are many, many different names for yellow. And red. And blue, and so on. From amazing to zealous, there have been countless adjectives and images attached to swatches of colour to get us exciting about differentiation. Sometimes, it seems wrong to use the words they have printed on the colour squares. Word choices don't always seem to match properly, though a lot of them are named after things found in nature, like goldenrod and its very specific yellow. This got me wondering what it would be like to go to a similar shelf, having a different primary language. And trust me, your mother didn't teach you to talk with this mouth, either.

Different Names for the Same Thing

Obviously, every language has different words for the things we commonly know as 'milk,' 'brother,' and 'hair,' but an interesting difference comes when we start talking about colour. In English, we have orange and pink, which are really 'light brown' and 'light red' to many other cultures, no different from the light blue with which we label the sky.

Japanese temple

For example, when studying Japanese, the word I learned for 'pink' is actually an adaptation from English of 'pinku,' as red and pink are merely seen as different shades in Japanese culture, as well as Chinese, rather than separate colours. Furthermore, in Japanese, the colour name 'aoi' describes colours from green to blue, and the hues between. For example, the green light of a traffic light is still 'aoi,' and the sky is the same. As cultures became more 'modern,' words have been adapted into the cultures, but the need wasn't always present.

St. Basil's Cathedral

In Russian culture, blue has even further differentiation than our 'light blue' and 'dark blue.' While the have light and dark blue, goluboj and sinij respectively are seen as even further separate colours than just light and dark blue.

Where It All Came From

Words are born seemingly from desperation to communicate something. Needs and wants have come to be even eloquently spoken, and warnings and cautions can be said in a single syllable. When it comes to colour, arguably still born out of a need -- the need to express -- it should serve as no surprise that learning the basics just wasn't enough. Almost all theories suggest that the basics are learned first, and then two basic words -- light and dark -- to distinguish new colours. Put together with a pocket dictionary alone, it's a whole new world of expression, relation, and colour love.

Is English your first language?

Have you experienced any of these colour differentiations, or lack there of?

Do you have a specific favourite colour?

Showing 1 - 13 of 13 Comments
My fiance is Montenegrin, and they use the same color for "blue" and "blond."
hmmm. blue hair...

paintchips are a passion of mine. i love looking at the names and the colourful wall of chips.

i do a lesson with paintchips - actually several. i have the students take a chip, name cut off, and choose a name that will help everyone know what chip they had. for example: i give someone a blue chip and they name it sky blue. when we put all the chips up on the board they all have to try to match the names they each gave to the chips. another is when i give them a stack of chips to choose from and they have to take five, recreate the colour as closely as possible using tempera paint, paint another "chip" on their paper and give it a new name. i also have them create random colours with tempera and name them, after giving them some ideas from paintchip names.

i have 5 HUGE posters in my classroom made only from paint chips. 3 of them are titled, "red", "white" and "blue", each having about 50 versions of their colour name (50 red chips...). i'm working on doing a full spectrum, a poster for each of the six main colours, brown, black and white. i just ran out of time and decided to do patriotic colours first.
This is one of my favorite actual paint colors from Resene of New Zealand. They don't take themselves too seriously:

Bull Shot
It sometimes takes the palette badges a while to show up here. The color in question was "Bull Shot".
restof, we're working on that badge problem.
It's there now --- I have notice that there is just a delay.
It seems to be in this area. When I pop one in a color/palette comment or edit color/palette description, it comes up right away.
I'm one of those people who doesn't have one specific favorite color.. Though I'm drawn to turquoises, dark purples, reddish-purples, black, creams, chartreuses, and corals..


Yoko Ono
Yet again, a wonderful article, well done. I love the pictures too.

I've always been interested, not only in the linguistic relation to colour, but the cultural, national, or political relations and differences as well. I posted somewhere on CL the question why is it that in the USA the "liberal" Democrats are seen as blue, while the Liberal party in Canada is red? For that matter, in fact, most socialist and all communist organizations sport red as their preferred colour. Yet today, paradoxically, the Republican party is associated with precisely the same colour.
Some Muslim states, such as Saudi Arabia and Libya refer back to the Ummayad Caliphate with their choice of green, but are much wealthier and more modernized than their poorer relatives Iraq and Egypt, which prefer the modern secular red white and black for their flags.

As for favourite colour... I have to honestly say that I love them all... Being the equal opportunity lover that I am....

Is English your first language?
No, I'm Slovakian, so my native language is Slovak.

Have you experienced any of these colour differentiations, or lack there of?
Well, we don't have any name for 'teal'. Only few colours have some special names, like beige (béžová), but we usually name colours as 'light' or 'dark' or 'krikľavý' (sth like technicolour...).
Tea Rose

Do you have a specific favourite colour?
Yellow Cab
Blackberry Juice
say i do at least
A color by any name is still as beautiful.

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