The Color of Words


Words for colors are slippery things. This came particularly to mind when I was reading through some fashion pages the other day as part of my eternal search for new vocabulary.

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One piece of clothing, whose colored illustration showed it to be a sort of dull pastel green, was described as being khaki in color. Now I am old enough to remember the color of British army uniforms just after the Second World War. Their uniforms were also said to be khaki (so much so that to be in khaki meant to be in the Army), but they were most certainly also a sandy brown with no hint of green. This fitted the etymology of the word-a legacy of British rule in India-which comes from an Urdu word meaning "dusty" (no connection with the ancient informal English term cacky, though the implied colors are, or were, similar).

If a word so recent and apparently so clearly defined can change meaning, almost without anyone noticing, perhaps it is not so surprising that other color words have done the same through history, even those for the primary colors that you would think too well-grounded in nature to suffer much change.

Continue Reading at World Wide Words


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