Posted by: episystechpubs | June 19, 2018

Editor’s Corner: Grue?

Today I have more about the colors of the rainbow, and then some, from an article by Grammar Girl.

Red

…One thing that surprised me most was that the next color almost all languages name is red—one theory is that it’s because it is the color of blood.

Although black, white, and red all likely go back to the prehistoric language Proto-Indo-European (PIE), Etymology Online states that red is “the only color for which a definite common PIE root word has been found.

Red shows up in a lot of place names where it referred to the color of natural elements such as rocks and soil. For example, the Oxford English Dictionary lists Radcliffe, Radclive, Redmile, Redford, and Rattery, all from 1086, and slightly later Radly and Redhill. The same root for “red” also likely gave us the word for the color “rust.”

In those early days though, “red” was probably the name for the color rust, as well as purple, pink, and orange.

In fact, we call people redheads instead of orangeheads because at the time we started calling them anything, the word “orange” hadn’t entered the language as a color word, and the word “red” included the orangey color of red hair.

Interestingly, the Irish writer Stan Carey told me that the Irish word for red hair is different from the general Irish word for red. [KC – Too bad she didn’t tell us what the word is!]

Grue

After red, most languages add a word for either yellow or a spectrum that includes both green and blue that language experts sometimes call “grue.” Since blue and green are so prevalent in nature, I would have expected one of them to be the third word more languages would add, but I was wrong!

You can think of these as the five base colors that most languages have: black, white, red, yellow, and green/blue. And English today is described as having 11 main color words: those five base colors (black, white, red, yellow, and green/blue) plus brown, orange, pink, purple and gray, but some languages have more or different words. For example, Russian, Greek, and Turkish have separate words for light blue and dark blue.

Gray, Brown, and Orange

Gray and brown are both very old words that go back to Old English, and orange came from the color of the fruit after oranges were introduced to Europe, around the mid-1500s.

Purple

Purple was originally a shade of crimson “obtained from mollusk dye” and associated with people of importance such as emperors, kings, cardinals, and so on. It came to describe many colors in the spectrum between red and violet. The color we think of as purple today was first called purple in the 1400s.

Kara Church

Technical Editor, Advisory

Symitar Documentation Services


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