Little-Known Meanings of Crazy Color Names vol. 4

Little-Known Meanings of Crazy Color Names vol. 4

Seemingly unintelligible colour names often tell fascinating and amusing stories, at least to those who are willing to delve beneath the surface.  We continue our strange and wonderful adventure into the uncharted fringes of language, where we'll discover new "shades of meaning."

The light green colour called hmm represents a sound which a “great conversationalist” makes while listening to keep people talking, as discussed in Think Like Your Customer: A Winning Strategy to Maximize Sales by Understanding and Influencing How and Why Your Customers Buy by Bill Stinnett.


The bright orange colour called hmmmm refers to a “trite expression of wonder, envy and awe” that, along with “oh my,” “well well,” “say now,” and “really?” “will cover your adventures in New York” (Hunter S. Thompson, The Proud Highway: Saga of a Desperate Southern Gentleman, 1955-1967).


The golden colour similarly called hmmmm recalls a chant from the Igbo Folk Epic from Sub-Saharan Africa, as discussed in Traditional Storytelling Today: An International Sourcebook by Margaret Read MacDonald.


The dark red colour called hmph recalls an exclamation by the “Good Magician Humfrey” that, according to a translator golem, means “You blundering aviary feline!  Get your catty feet on the ground!” (Piers Anthony, Source of Magic).


The pale orange colour called hnnn echoes the grunt of Frankenstein’s monster, according to poet John Quinn in “Subway Station Meditation (New York),” Do Not Ask Me to Compete with the Angels.

photo by Love Not Fear
img by Love Not Fear

The deep purple colour called hssss refers to the sound of a city bus pulling away from a stop, as in The Hearse You Came In On by Tim Cockey.


The bright blue colour called kkkk refers to the sound of silk being stolen: "Aye, Silk’s what they fancy out in India ... over the wall, in your Window, kkkk!  Job’s done." (Thomas Pynchon, Mason & Dixon).


The deep green colour called kkkkkkk echoes the rapid bill-clapping sound of the Choco Toucan, as described in Toucans, Barbets and Honeyguides: Ramphastidae, Capitonidae and Indicatoridae by Lester L. Short.


The dusky purple colour called mmmmm recalls an expression of feeling vulnerable upon finding oneself stranded in a strange place at night, as in the song “Cross Road Blues” by Robert Johnson, as transcribed in Trouble in Mind by Leon F. Litwack.


The pale yellow colour called nnn echoes a response to the question “You spigotty anglease?” in Finnegans Wake by James Joyce.


All of these colour name insights are derived from my Dictionary of Improbable Words, which is available for online reading.

Cover img by jovike.

Craig ConleyAbout the Guest Author, Craig Conley
Craig is an independent scholar and author of dozens of strange and unusual books, including a unicorn field guide and a dictionary of magic words. He also loves color: Prof. Oddfellow

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Colors From The Harbin Ice Festival

Colors From The Harbin Ice Festival

With temperature extremes that reach negative forty degrees Celsius, and normal average temperatures that stay below zero for half of the year, Harbin, the capital of Heilongjiang province of China, is the perfect place to hold the most spectacular ice and snow festival. Bringing in artist from all over the world the annual Harbin Ice festival is one of the world's four largest ice and snow festivals, along with Japan's Sapporo Snow Festival, Canada's Quebec City Winter Carnival, and Norway's Ski Festival. It includes some of the most incredible ice carvings, sculptures, and structures that illuminate with color each evening for an entire month.

The festival first dates back to 1963, but the tradition of the Ice lanterns started during the Qing Dynasty, between the years of 1644 and 1911.

The Derivation Of The Ice Lantern

Photo by gadgetdan

The first Ice lanterns were a winter-time tradition in northeast China during the Qing Dynasty(1644 - 1911), the local peasants and fishermen often made and used ice lanterns as jack lights during the winter months. At that time these were made simply by pouring water into a bucket that was then put out in the open to freeze. It was then gently warmed before the water froze completely so that the bucket-shaped ice could be pulled out. A hole was chiseled in the top and the water remaining inside poured out creating a hollow vessel. A candle was then placed inside resulting in a windproof lantern that gained great popularity in the region around Harbin.

Photo by ianwhitfield

From then on, people made ice lanterns and put them outside their houses or gave them to children to play with during some of the traditional festivals. Thus the ice lantern began its long history of development. With novel changes and immense advancement in techniques, today we can marvel at the various delicate and artistic ice lanterns on display.

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WINNERS: Photo Color Inspiration Contest

WINNERS: Photo Color Inspiration Contest

You all are just way to talented! Choosing 3 winners from the 1,500 entries was an incredibly difficult task. It actually took more than a few hours to look at all the entries. (You can view all the contest entries here: Photo Color Inspiration with LuckyOliver) So many were creative, interesting and works of art themselves... but in the end we only have enough prizes for 3 winners and here they are:

Paris Underground

1st Prize

8GB iPod Touch or $300 via US check or PayPal
50 LuckyOliver tokens


2nd Prize

iPod Shuffle or $79 via US check or PayPal
50 LuckyOliver tokens

Double Dahlia

3rd Prize

iTunes Gift Card or $25 via US check or PayPal
25 LuckyOliver tokens

Honorable Entries

Getting 3 from 1,500 was nearly impossible. Along the way we kept trimming the list of palettes we loved down to a smaller number and the palettes below stayed with us for most of the way. Even though they didn't win, we wanted to share a little extra love with these palettes.

The moose is back
LuckyOliver: Fuzzy Red Oak Leaves ~ New Spring Growth

Abstract Love
LuckyOliver: Abstract painted pink and orange background

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The Colors of Carnival: Venice

The Colors of Carnival: Venice

This is part of a series about colors from the 2008 Carnival season. Today we are featuring colors from the incredibly dramatic, ornately crafted and intricately designed costumes and masks of Carnival Venice

The colors of the Carnival festival season have been brightening up the streets of cities across the world since Pre-Christian times. While the celebration may not have always included eclectic parades filled with dynamic floats and street performers, Carnival has become a global celebration that extends beyond its religious roots crossing cultural and political divides.

Carnival Venice

Photo by Alaskan Dude

The carnival in Venice was first recorded in 1268. The subversive nature of the festival is reflected in the many laws created over the centuries in Italy attempting to restrict celebrations and often banning the wearing of masks.

Photo by Alaskan Dude

Masks have always been a central feature of the Venetian carnival; traditionally people were allowed to wear them between the festival of Santo Stefano (St. Stephen's Day, December 26) at the start of the carnival season and midnight of Shrove Tuesday. As masks were also allowed during Ascension and from October 5 to Christmas, people could spend a large proportion of the year in disguise. Mask makers (mascareri) enjoyed a special position in society, with their own laws and their own guild.

Venetian Masks

Photo by Alaskan Dude

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Hayao Miyazaki: A Master of Color and Magic

Hayao Miyazaki: A Master of Color and Magic

If you've never seen a Hayao Miyazaki film, I can honestly tell you that you are missing a truly amazing experience that reaches vastly beyond the general formula of film making. Miyazaki has the same power to refresh the magic of childhood that Disney had down pat during their prime (and some would argue, still have.) Whereas Disney films seem to have lost some of that luster, Miyazaki has displayed work that not only shimmered with the brilliance of gorgeous color, sound and storytelling, but is delivered with such a humble hand that as viewers we are never once reminded of the heart of the film until we are ready to hold it close to us. This is what makes Miyazaki a master.

Hayao Miyazaki founded his own animation studio, Studio Ghibli, in 1985 after working with Toei Animation in his early career as an in-between artist. Miyazaki was the second of four brothers, raised by a highly literate mother who tended to question societal norms. She later suffered from spinal tuberculosis and the family often moved, which a reflection of can be seen in Miyazaki's perennial children's classic, My Neighbor Totoro.


From an early point in Miyazaki's career, his films shared the theme of environmentalism and rarely featured one-track characterizations. The first introduction of the former was in his 1984 film Nausicaa of the Valley of the Wind, in which he tells the story of Nausicaa, princess of the peaceful Valley of the Wind. The adventure focuses on Nausicaa's humane approach to the chaos happening in the world around her and brings up humanistic and ecological concerns rarely seen in animation at the time of its release. The film was well received in Japan, selling nearly a million tickets and landing Miyazaki squarely on the map of the Japanese awareness.


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Everyone is Irish (And Green) on March 17th

Everyone is Irish (And Green) on March 17th

Green is a well loved color when it comes to attention during the holidays. It is the accent to the red and white candy canes during Christmas... the color hidden under the cover of a witches hat on Halloween... but no holiday lets green shine in the spotlight like St. Patrick's Day.

Photo by K2D2vaca

Saint Patrick's Day is celebrated worldwide on March 17th by Irish people and increasingly by many of non-Irish descent (usually in Australia, North America, and Ireland), hence the phrase, “Everyone is Irish on St. Patrick's Day.” Celebrations are generally themed around all things green and Irish; both Christians and non-Christians celebrate the secular version of the holiday by wearing green, eating Irish food and/or green foods, imbibing Irish drink, and attending parades.

Saint Patrick's Holiday History

Photo by Flipped Out

Saint Patrick's Day, colloquially St. Paddy's Day or Paddy's Day, is the feast day which annually celebrates Saint Patrick (385–461), one of the patron saints of Ireland, on March 17, the day on which Saint Patrick died. The day is the national holiday of the Irish people. It is a Bank Holiday in Northern Ireland, and a public holiday in the Republic of Ireland, Montserrat, and the Canadian province of Newfoundland and Labrador. In the rest of Canada, Australia, the United Kingdom and the United States, it is widely celebrated but is not an official holiday.

St. Patrick's Blue?

Although Saint Patrick's Day has the color green as its theme, one little known fact is that blue was once the color associated with this day.

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Colorful Allusions vol. 8

Colorful Allusions vol. 8

Though printed in black and white, great literature is bursting with vibrant color.  In this rebus-style puzzle, color words and parts of words have been replaced with colored boxes.  Try to guess the exact hue of each.  Roll your mouse over the colored boxes to reveal the missing words.  Click the colored boxes to learn more about each hue.  Special thanks to Paul Dean for his colorful research.


Yellow and black, pink and snow white, shapes of all these colours, men, women and children were spotted for a second upon the horizon, and then, seeing the breadth of yellow that lay upon the grass, they wavered and sought shade beneath the trees, dissolving like drops of water in the yellow and green atmosphere, staining it faintly with red and blue.
—Virginia Woolf, Kew Gardens.


Come back, my scarlet ladybird, / Back from far away; / I weary of my dolly wife, / My wife that cannot play.
She’s such a senseless wooden thing / She stares the livelong day; / Her wig of gold is stiff and cold / And cannot change to grey.
—Christina Rossetti, "I caught a little ladybird." From The Faber Book of Vernacular Verse, edited by Tom Paulin, 1988.

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Little-Known Meanings of Crazy Color Names vol. 3

Little-Known Meanings of Crazy Color Names vol. 3

Seemingly incomprehensible color names often tell intriguing and funny stories, at least to those who are willing to delve beneath the surface. We continue our strange and wonderful adventure into the uncharted fringes of language, where we'll discover new "shades of meaning."

The dark gray color called fsck refers to a Linux system administration command and is also the title of an album of experimental electronic music by the band Farmers Manual.


The bright pink color called fzzk recalls the sound of “flash panties,” a weapon disguised as underwear, as in the comic book Dirty Pair: Run From The Future #3 by Adam Warren.


The light purple color called ggg echoes the gulping of a noisy drinker, as described in “More Than Words” by the New Zealand Ministry of Education.


The light green color called gggg refers to a baby’s giggle, as described in the novel Edwin Mullhouse by Steven Millhauser.


The gray color called gnch refers to the sound of someone gorging on a giant mushroom, as in the graphic novel Uzumaki 2 by Junji Ito.

photo by sahmeepee
img by sahmeepee

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Color Shades of the Unexpected

Color Shades of the Unexpected

What makes a color "unexpected" is a difference from the norm or a breaking of the rules. Consider, for example, a fiery red nimbus cloud amongst common white ones, an impatient yellow blossom amongst green buds, or an anomalous brown nut amongst its candy-covered companions. A mismatched color can jolt the viewer into a new way of looking. It can offer:

  • a rhythm to the palette
  • a lively surprise
  • a sense of depth or substance
  • a punchy contrast
  • a delightful idiosyncrasy
  • an inspirational boost
  • a festive mood
  • unexpected warmth
  • a "not too serious" tone
  • a fun nuance
  • a reason to smile
Little Red Angel
img by jpmatth


An anomalous pile of blue sticks next to an orange-leafed tree in an autumnal glade served as the inspiration for the "Stick Figures" palette.

Stick FiguresStick Figures
img by ISphoto


A green and red cactus in a Kingman, Arizona parking lot served as the inspiration for the "Cactus Erroneous" palette.

Cactus ErroneousCactus Erroneous
img by cobalt123


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Artists of Light and Color: Finch, Rahm & Yuskavage.

Artists of Light and Color: Finch, Rahm & Yuskavage.

A few months ago I visited MASS Moca, a modern art museum in a converted factory in the Northern Berkshires. The space itself is worth a visit with its exposed brick walls, high ceilings, huge windows, and industrial feel.

Spencer Finch

My favorite work was by Brooklyn artist Spencer Finch. Finch explores how people perceive lights effect on an object’s color, the boundaries of the human field of vision, and the influence of language, memory, and the subconscious.

His works re-creates specific light conditions experienced at a different place and time. Above are photos I took of two Spencer Finch installations, “Sunlight In An Empty Room (Passing Cloud For Emily Dickinson, 2004)" and “Candlelight (2007)" at Mass Moca.

Philip Rahm & Lisa Yuskavage

I love how color and light can impact all they touch, be it skin, grass, water etc. To see artists that are artificially capturing and portraying these effects is so thrilling. My husband and I went to Paris for our honeymoon on a whim last summer. We planned to be in Italy but it was sweltering so we hopped a train to beautiful, colorful Paris (hence my obsession with macarons and previous post on this blog).

Philip Rahm

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