The For Fact’s Sake columns are – according to Google and the Duck ’n Fiddle’s Explanation of Everything – based in truth. Occasionally however, names and places have been changed to protect innocent people involved.
Hue and kraai
Those of us fortunate enough to have the gift of sight, take colours for granted. I can describe a painting I’d bought to Susan in Perth, and by using references like forest green, post-box red or navy blue, she’ll be able to envisage it in her mind’s eye.
But what if she was blind? How do you describe colours to someone born sightless? She’s been told that the sky is blue, but it is only an audio reference. Sadly, without the optical software to process colours, her mind’s eye would only ‘see’ in black and white, with fifty shades of grey in between – one for each colour she hears mentioned.
But for the sighted, colours and their various shades have different names which we learn from an early age. The colour overhead is blue, sky-blue, but there again, so is a police light. Post boxes are red, but so is blood. Snow is white, but so is Trump. And an orange is orange, but there again, dare I say, so too is Trump.
Well, this got us wondering. Who decreed that ‘from henceforth, the colour of the lawn shall be referred to as green’? And when was it decided that whispering turquoise sounded provocative enough to assign it its own shade? Yellow sounds more like a greeting than a colour, and Pink, whether tickled or not requires an explanation, so we rummaged through the archives at the Explanation of Everything for answers.
In modern English, most of the colour names are the result of dialectic influences or drunken/sloppy mispronunciations over the centuries. Yellow, for example, was used in Old English from 1590 but was spelt geolu. This was derived from the Old High German gelo, similar to the Middle Dutch, ghele.
The word orange dribbled into the English language pool around 1512, and is derived from the Persian narang which in turn comes from the ancient Sanskrit naranga. It described the colour of the fruit as far back as 400BCE, but oranges were unheard of in Europe until the 12th century, when Crusaders schlepped back pockets of them from the Holy Land.
Now purple is quite interesting. In early Greek the word was porphyra, a term for the shellfish-derived dye used by garment makers. In Latin it was called purpura and entered Old English around the 10th century. Who could have thought that the gooey mucus excreted by the spiny dye-murex sea-snail would become the preserve of royalty, nobility and the clergy, nogal.
Green comes from the Proto-Indian-European word greh, which literally meant ‘to grow’. It filtered through Northern Europe as grani in Old Saxon, grouni in Old High German and groene in Middle Dutch, among others. The Italians though – under pressure from the Pope and the Mafia – refused to cooperate and stuck with Latin variations of verdi.
As we all know, there are many more colours than just those in the rainbow. Sadly it would take the entire newspaper to discuss them all, so just Google Etymology/colours and astound everyone at the Crochet Club next week with your profound knowledge of the colour spectrum. Here’s how…
“Hi Sandra, that’s a beautiful lilac blouse. (Thanks.) Do you know where the word lilac comes from?” (No.) Then the floor is yours.
It’s still rather baffling though, why some colours have alternative names which are bandied about by the hoity-toity arty-farty brigade. Life’s difficult enough as it is to worry about what cyan is, or cerise, or carnelian for that matter.
No laughing matter
Sir Mick Jagger, whose face looks like it’s been slept in, was interviewed on TV, and was asked if he’d ever considered having a face-lift to eradicate his rather well-defined wrinkles and creases.
“They’re not wrinkles,” retorted Mick smugly, “they’re laughter lines!”
The perplexed interviewer paused… then shook her head. “Nothing can be that funny.”