COLOURFUL LANGUAGE

What is your favourite colour?

If it is blue (after all it is the world’s favourite colour), what kind of Blue is it?  Is it Baby Blue, Navy Blue, Air Force Blue, Royal Blue, Light Blue, Dark Blue, Deep Blue, Sky Blue, Kingfisher Blue, Klein Blue, Sea Blue (oh, no, that’s only Sea Green isn’t it?), Bright Blue, Cambridge Blue, Oxford Blue, Prussian Blue, Cobalt Blue, Powder Blue, Ice Blue, Denim Blue, Sapphire Blue  …

My point is that there are very few dedicated colour terms ie: names that mean only that colour and nothing else. There is black and white, blue, green, yellow, red, brown, grey. And these cover a wide range of colour. The more specific terms such as crimson, azure, scarlet, cyan etc have a correspondingly limited use. It is almost impossible to accurately describe in a paragraph, let alone a word or two,  a specific point on the vast spectrum of colour differentiation. The net has to be cast a little wider.

Most colours have names which come from other sources,  such as:

FLOWERS/PLANTS   –   violet  pink  fuchsia  lilac  lavender  indigo  rose  primrose chestnut  magnolia (aargh!)  linen  amber

ANIMALS   –   coral  pearl  camel  fawn  

FOOD/DRINK   –   orange  chocolate  saffron  apricot  raspberry  plum  olive  lemon peach  cream  mustard  lime  avocado ( ’70’s aargh! this time)  champagne  coffee wine  burgundy

MINERALS   –   jade  ruby  platinum  gold  silver  turquoise  sapphire

EVENTS/PLACES    –   magenta (named after a battle)  ultramarine  (meaning ‘beyond the sea’, as it was imported by ship from Asia)

Often colours are described using dark or light as a prefix and other times they are made more specific with a qualifying adjective:

NATURAL WORLD   –   peacock blue   jet black  slate grey  salmon pink   primrose yellow   emerald green   sea green   apple green   grass green  pea green

PAINTERS   –   Titian red   International Klein blue

In the 20C colour names became more conceptual, with titles such as ‘Georgian’ or ‘Gainsborough’ or ‘Byzantium’, suggesting a flavour or impression of a bygone era.

Today, the naming of paint colours seems to have hit stratospheric heights,  witness the names of the paints in the photo above:  Ivory   Smooth Gold   Grey Steel 3/4/5   Lemon Chiffon 2/4/5/6/   Blue Seduction   Hot Paprika 3   Azure Sky 6   Kiwi Burst 6.

I would hate to be the person who has to come up with an original paint name these days. The weirdest one I have come across is ‘Emotional’ – I dread to think what colour that would be in my case (!).

Please let me know any of your favourite/weirdest colour terms …

5 Comments

  1. Interesting to see how we source associations. I wonder if there is a preferred group – i.e. do we prefer food-related colours to flowery ones? Or maybe that depend on our personalities. In Australia (and maybe everywhere) the most popular Dulux colour seems to be Antique White USA with all its connotations of New England and probably Spielberg films…

  2. My guess is that there are more food-related than flower-related terms … I wonder if the Antique White is a response to the heat over with you? According to ‘a leading colour forecaster’, the Pantone colour for 2014 is Radiant Orchid, a kind of fuchsia, purple and pink medley. Yikes, is all I have to say to that. It’s probably a reaction to all the floods over here (!).

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