A discussion forum for history enthusiasts everywhere
 
HomeHome  Recent ActivityRecent Activity  FAQFAQ  RegisterRegister  Log inLog in  

Share | 
 

 Colour words in history

View previous topic View next topic Go down 
AuthorMessage
Caro
Censura
avatar

Posts : 1085
Join date : 2012-01-09

PostSubject: Colour words in history   Thu 29 Mar 2012, 07:01

I'm never sure where to put things, but this seems to be mostly about the language of colour. Our newspaper had a words article the other day talking of colour names from the past and in different cultures. He began by talking of Homer's use of oinopa ponton (I don't know any Greek, but that's what I've written down) and that has been generally translated as winedark, but it is more literally wine face/surface.

Then he talked of chloras which after the Greeks was translated as green, but Homer uses it for fear and for honey. The main colours mentioned in Homer were black and white, and then red. There have been suggestions that names for colours haven't been as advanced as they are now, but the writer said that was not correct and colour words are as varied in one language as another. (The only language that I can use to think of is Maori, and they had/have quite a variety of words for one colour, but whether they are words more used in different areas or different words for the same colour or different words for a variant of the colour, I am not sure. Kikorangi, kahurangi and puru all mean blue. (rangi is the word for sky) When we named our cat I chose Mango meaning black; only later did I learn that pango means black and mango meant spear. But I have learnt further that mangu also means black. I like the word for pink in Maori which is mawhero, ma meaning white and whero meaning red.)

The article talked a bit about the light/dark colour. We in English differentiate between red and light red (pink) but not blue or green in the same way. Russia apparently has different words for light blue and dark blue.

There can be problems just being sure what a colour meant in the past. He ended with, "When John Aubrey says Milton's hair was auburn, do we yet know that that meant?" (I recall on a board dedicated to Georgette Heyer's books a long discussion about what colour chestnut is; to me, used to the colour chestnut used for racehorses, there was no doubt it was a reddish light brown shade, but others were quite certain it was a ordinary brown. So even for people speaking the same language and with much the same cultural background (most of them were American) colour can be a little difficult.

There are thousands of different words and phrases on colour charts, but this article was talking of the main colour names, not names like Ocean Breeze and Bubblegum.

Do you have any more knowledge about what changes there have been to colour words over the centuries? Or how different cultures think of colour?

Caro.
Back to top Go down
nordmann
Nobiles Barbariæ
avatar

Posts : 5631
Join date : 2011-12-25

PostSubject: Re: Colour words in history   Thu 29 Mar 2012, 09:13

There is an existentialist hypothesis concerning the supremacy of self which starts with colour as a prime example of the reasoning behind it. The gist of the argument is along the lines of:

  • You see red and call it red
  • I see red and call it red
  • We both see red and agree that it is red
  • Is it red because we agree it is red or is it actually red?


The existentialist conclusion to the two questions is "yes" and "only because we say so" in that there is nothing which is actually red and can be proven to be red. We can chemically and physically analyse the behaviour and properties of all the mechanisms, matter and light which combine to give us both a perception of red, but we have absolutely no concrete method of establishing what we each privately perceive once the mechanisms have relayed the signal to our brain and it has been consciously registered there. "Red" therefore is simply a term of convenience to describe one result of certain stimuli which we are both forced to experience and must agree as to their nature, but it cannot be declared a concrete entity on that basis alone. The existentialist argument of course then goes much further into the relative importance of perception versus reality and concludes that almost everything is supposed to exist whereas all that we can say truly exists resides within the individual and is non-translatable.

But it is right to begin with colour as an example, I feel. Especially when, as you say, language betrays its lack of substance. We might wonder how or why the Greeks of three thousand or so years ago could all look into a cloudless sky and declare it to be bronze in colour, or why Gaelic speaking Europeans spoke of blue people in Africa, and find many reasons which make sense. The Greeks, we surmise, took the blueness of the sky for granted and used another quality or effect of sunlight to describe the sky's predominant characteristic in terms of colour. Likewise the Gaelic speaker, we surmise, prioritised the effect of light on dark skin when naming a colour as an identifying feature since they already distinguished between people of the same skin colour by another colour-based label describing hair. But - as we can equally surmise from the existentialist argument above - the requirement of consensus in any case far outweighed the requirement to be physically accurate, and it still does today. Nomenclature with regard to colour - in any language - is fluid in the extreme. So fluid in fact that the requirement for consensus is very much a contemporary demand and therefore we now cannot even be sure that we perceive "red" with the same consensus as a few generations ago, even if the word itself has survived unchanged.
Back to top Go down
https://reshistorica.historyboard.net
Islanddawn
Censura
avatar

Posts : 2060
Join date : 2012-01-05
Location : Greece

PostSubject: Re: Colour words in history   Thu 29 Mar 2012, 09:34

Interesting topic Caro, but I'm not going to be any help with ancient Greek interpretations of colour I'm afraid. What little knowledge I possess is limited to modern Greek, only touching on the ancient when the same words are still in use. Words for colours (or chroma) in modern Greek are a mixture of ancient Greek and loan words, mainly French.

There is an article here on your topic, but I'd urge you also to read the comments below as there are many interesting replies refuting the argument of the blogger and their reasoning.

http://serendip.brynmawr.edu/exchange/node/61
Back to top Go down
nordmann
Nobiles Barbariæ
avatar

Posts : 5631
Join date : 2011-12-25

PostSubject: Re: Colour words in history   Thu 29 Mar 2012, 11:51

The article and its responses are a good indication of the problem one encounters if one discusses colour and its perception as a purely mechanical exercise. This is not enough in itself to explain the huge variation in the consensuses in interpretation between cultures and over time as is evidenced in the literary record. It is not a question of "whose eyes are better than the others?" or even "whose language is more correct or descriptive than the others?". These things are immaterial.

When the article veers towards the existentialist idea of qualitative perception it starts making some sense of the historical and inter-cultural disparities.
Back to top Go down
https://reshistorica.historyboard.net
ferval
Censura
avatar

Posts : 2494
Join date : 2011-12-27

PostSubject: Re: Colour words in history   Thu 29 Mar 2012, 13:24

Quote :
All in a hot and copper sky,
The bloody Sun, at noon,
The Ancient Mariner.

Metallic metaphors for the sky are common in English, brazen or leaden for example and we often talk about something being blue-black, particularly hair colour. The sea may be blue near the shore but the deep water is more often a purplish, indigo shade not too dissimilar from red wine so I don't find these Homeric descriptions are signifying any obvious difference in colour discrimination.
Colour words carry so much cultural baggage and are so often ascribed to things other than just shades and tones, emotions for instance, that to try to use these to suggest some kind of inability to differentiate between them seems frankly nonsensical. Just because the agreed translation of chloras is green, whereas we might see fear and honey as yellow, suggests that they were using a different set of associations and not suffering from a kind of ethnic colour blindness.
Back to top Go down
Gilgamesh of Uruk
Censura
avatar

Posts : 1400
Join date : 2011-12-27

PostSubject: Re: Colour words in history   Thu 29 Mar 2012, 17:17

Colour words can have extended meanings - krasnyi, red in Russian, also means "beautiful", colorado, red is Spanish, also means "coloured" - misreading that is supposedly the origin of "Red Indian".
Back to top Go down
Caro
Censura
avatar

Posts : 1085
Join date : 2012-01-09

PostSubject: Re: Colour words in history   Fri 30 Mar 2012, 07:05

Was lucky for me that this was the case for the word kowhai when I was learning Maori with no English allowed. All completely incomprehensible to me till we got to te rakau kowhai and I realised that the kowhai tree was yellow and therefore the words were all about colours.

Is krasnyi the main word for beautiful in Russia? There are quite a lot of English words that have other meanings but not quite a main one, like blue for depressed, or green for novice or yellow for cowardly.

I often wonder how people know we see the same thing by a colour name, but they can tell if people are colour-blind, and sometimes that seems to be mostly sort of transposing a couple of colours. Can't be exactly that, though , or people would just think the name 'green' referred to what the rest of us (I presume) see as red.
Back to top Go down
nordmann
Nobiles Barbariæ
avatar

Posts : 5631
Join date : 2011-12-25

PostSubject: Re: Colour words in history   Fri 30 Mar 2012, 08:31

Colour-blindness does not in itself solve the riddle of whether we perceive colours in the same way or not, despite the consensus regarding what they are called and that they are indeed distinct from each other. A colour-blind person simply cannot differentiate between certain colours. But though they fail to see a distinction they are still part of the consensus in that they understand this simply as a failure of distinction on their part, not of recognition that the distinction exists.
Back to top Go down
https://reshistorica.historyboard.net
Gilgamesh of Uruk
Censura
avatar

Posts : 1400
Join date : 2011-12-27

PostSubject: Re: Colour words in history   Fri 30 Mar 2012, 16:32

If I switch between eyes, using one at a time, I can see a distinct if subtle colour difference. I don't doubt that others perception is different from mine - the interesting point, to me, is when discussing "mixed" colours - is it a bluey-green or a greeny-blue etc., when agreement seems near impossible to acheive.
Back to top Go down
Meles meles
Censura
avatar

Posts : 2748
Join date : 2011-12-30
Location : Pyrénées-Orientales, France

PostSubject: Re: Colour words in history   Fri 30 Mar 2012, 21:12

@Gilgamesh of Uruk wrote:
... is it a bluey-green or a greeny-blue etc..
Bear in mind also Gil that quite a few languages, particularly in Africa and Asia, make no distinction between blue and green but have a general term that covers both. Linguistically this single colour is known in English as grue. Hence one has leaf-grue (ie green) and sky-grue (ie blue) etc..
Back to top Go down
Caro
Censura
avatar

Posts : 1085
Join date : 2012-01-09

PostSubject: Re: Colour words in history   Fri 30 Mar 2012, 21:55

The colours I have difficulty trying to pinpoint are those which you see when you are a passenger in a car and shut your eyes and look at the source of light (I might say the sun, but you're not supposed to look at the sun, though if your eyes are shut this must be okay, mustn't it?). The colour varies dependent on how hard you shut your eyes, but it's not colours that are usually seen - very deep dark red, or some form of orangey-yellow. And then if you come to trees blocking the sun, it changes to a darkish green, I think.

And people usually describe trees as green or perhaps in autumnal tones, but if you are looking at trees in the distance on hills they are always a navy indigo very dark blue. Someone told me once why this was so, but I can't remember the colour/light/eye things that bring it about.

And I also wonder sometimes if there could be different colours that we can't see on earth. I think some of the lights that aren't visible to us would bring different colours. Ultraviolet light. Bees see extra colours? and birds?
Back to top Go down
Meles meles
Censura
avatar

Posts : 2748
Join date : 2011-12-30
Location : Pyrénées-Orientales, France

PostSubject: Re: Colour words in history   Fri 30 Mar 2012, 22:41

@Caro wrote:
The colours I have difficulty trying to pinpoint are those which you see when you are a passenger in a car and shut your eyes and look at the source of light .... The colour varies dependent on how hard you shut your eyes, but it's not colours that are usually seen - very deep dark red, or some form of orangey-yellow.
Surely if you do that you are just seeing sunlight (white light) passing through your eyelids (skin and blood) ... hence the reds and orange, no?

Quote :
I think some of the lights that aren't visible to us would bring different colours. Ultraviolet light. Bees see extra colours? and birds?
Yes it is certainly true that bees and other insects can "see" into the ultraviolet range, and pit vipers can "see" (using separate organs to their eyes) into the infra-red... so effectively they do see a wavelength of light - "colour" if you like - that exists outside of what we can perceive, but exactly what they "see" ie what they mentally perceive, is uncertain. I think it is a mistake to believe that they see extra colours (in the sense that we understand it) that we cannot. The idea of colour is essentially a human biological construct of the way we distinguish between the different wavelengths of the light we detect. Colour in itself is not an intrinsic property of anything, as I say it is just our (human) way of distinguishng wavelengths of light reflected from our surroundings. With different biology we could interpret "colour" ie light wavelengths, as say akin to mentally "hearing" the pitch of sound.
Back to top Go down
Meles meles
Censura
avatar

Posts : 2748
Join date : 2011-12-30
Location : Pyrénées-Orientales, France

PostSubject: Re: Colour words in history   Fri 01 Jun 2012, 08:06

Have just stumbled acoss this BBC article:

Do we all see the same colours?
Back to top Go down
Islanddawn
Censura
avatar

Posts : 2060
Join date : 2012-01-05
Location : Greece

PostSubject: Re: Colour words in history   Fri 01 Jun 2012, 08:43

I've read somewhere (but can't find now) a new study that suggests that men can not see as many colours as women. Makes some sense if my husband is any indication, he would call something is blue for example and I'd say no it is not, it's purple.

There is a fun test here, to see how many colours you can detect
http://www.xrite.com/custom_page.aspx?pageid=77&lang=en
Back to top Go down
Meles meles
Censura
avatar

Posts : 2748
Join date : 2011-12-30
Location : Pyrénées-Orientales, France

PostSubject: Re: Colour words in history   Fri 01 Jun 2012, 08:59

I have a friend (male) who is red/green colour blind, he therfore has trouble distinguishing between some colours but he can distinguish better than most people diferences in contrast - slight differences in the intesity of greys or in the density of black dots on a white background, such as in printed b/w photos, drawings, diagrams etc.
Back to top Go down
nordmann
Nobiles Barbariæ
avatar

Posts : 5631
Join date : 2011-12-25

PostSubject: Re: Colour words in history   Thu 07 Jun 2012, 22:29

History can be colour blind too. The crushed dried bodies of the female of the Kermes Vermilio insect was for many centuries the best way of producing an extremely vivid scarlet dye, so expensive to manufacture however that clothes thus dyed were quite out of the reach of all but the very wealthiest and most powerful people in society.

In the early middle ages Lincoln became famous for its dyers, who developed an industrial method of reproducing the effect of expensive dyes with cheaper ingredients or simply more effective bulk processing of material, so it was not long before their version of this scarlet, in English "greyne", became the town's brand leader and much sought after around the country and beyond.

Cue Robin Hood, whose earliest manifestation in legend coincided with the popularity of Lincoln Greyne, and who seems from the beginning to have been clad in garments so described.

By the 16th century however the Lincoln dyers were in full decline. Cue Robin Hood again, this time in the first written account we have of the legend from around 1510 "Lytell Geste of Robin Hode", where it is said of him and his men "When they were clothed in Lyncolne grene they kest away their gray." And it was this account which served as the basis for further written elaborations. By the 18th century the spelling had settled down and "Lincoln Green" had entered the English language, not to mention Robin's wardrobe. However there still must have been some lingering suspicion about the original colour code as the anonymous author of "The English Archer or Robin Hood's Garland" felt obliged to point out "He cloathed his men in Lincoln green and himself in scarlet red."

By the time of Errol Flynn et al even this nod in the direction of the truth was gone. Will Scarlet got to keep the original clobber but everyone else sported green tights (except Friar Tuck of course).

Ironically, at the height of Lincoln's dyeing industry, they would indeed have produced green material - even quite a lot of it compared to scarlet. However they used a combination of woad and weal in the process, just as in the rest of the country. There was nothing to distinguish it therefore from any other version and definitely no reason why it would have acquired a name which would simply have eclipsed and even detracted from the lustre of their proudest achievement - Lincoln Greyne.
Back to top Go down
https://reshistorica.historyboard.net
Islanddawn
Censura
avatar

Posts : 2060
Join date : 2012-01-05
Location : Greece

PostSubject: Re: Colour words in history   Fri 08 Jun 2012, 09:48

Is that the Cochineal beetle Nordmann?

Madder root was also used to produce a true red dye. It was used widely in Europe but the plant didn't grow in Britain, if memory serves. The Florentines had well and truely cornered the market in the production of red cloth, until England began the production of madder itself anyway.

This is a comprehensive timeline on the history of dyes.

http://www.straw.com/sig/dyehist.html
Back to top Go down
The Man From Devana
Quaestor
avatar

Posts : 11
Join date : 2012-06-07
Age : 61
Location : Devana

PostSubject: Re: Colour words in history   Mon 11 Jun 2012, 13:21

If we may go back to bronze for a minute:


Bronze - Freya on a boar.

We run the risk of assuming that the word they are using is describing what we think it is describing. We have a particular belief about what bronze (the colour) is. It might be very different from what is actually being described. What colour is bronze when it has been left to oxidize for a long time?
Back to top Go down
Meles meles
Censura
avatar

Posts : 2748
Join date : 2011-12-30
Location : Pyrénées-Orientales, France

PostSubject: Re: Colour words in history   Mon 11 Jun 2012, 15:18

That is a very good point 'Dev (I hope you don't mind me shortening you). Similarly our mental perceptions of the colours of copper, silver, gold...

Copper darkens as it tarnishes and becomes more "dark-amber" .. and of course if not cleaned will eventually go black or green depending on the oxides formed. Silver, the colour of the bright white silvery moon, is, unless kept constantly polished (not a good idea - being quite soft it is all to easy to polish pure silver artifacts away to nothing) usually tinged slightly yellow through sulphidation, and of course with atmospheric pollution these days goes rapidly black. (But did it always go black so rapidly? Atmospheric hydrogen sulphide levels are much higher now than in pre-industrial times... did ancient Athenians see their silver artifacts darken so quickly as we do?).

Gold of course isn't supposed to tarnish although it does get a sort of "patina". However I would guess very few people routinely see pure gold ... your Ratners' 9 carat rubbish, or even your finest Garrards' 18 or even 22 carat jewellery never really have the same deep egg-yoke yellow of fine, 24carat, 100% gold. And although gold has always been alloyed to debase it or more often just practically to make it a bit stronger, a lot of really old gold artifacts are actually made of fairly pure gold.


Last edited by Meles meles on Mon 11 Jun 2012, 15:45; edited 1 time in total
Back to top Go down
Meles meles
Censura
avatar

Posts : 2748
Join date : 2011-12-30
Location : Pyrénées-Orientales, France

PostSubject: Re: Colour words in history   Mon 11 Jun 2012, 15:36

Here I think we also touch upon another aspect of "colour". Colour is surely just our human response to being able to distinguish differing wavelengths of light. But there are different ways of producing those wavelengths.

Pigments absorb all other wavelengths and reflect only the wavelengh of "their colour". Hence plants are green because the chemical chlorophyl is green and it absorbs all wavelengths of light except that corresponding to "green" (for very practical reasons for the well-being of the plant). And then some animals (and a few funghi) can generate light themselves. Fire-flies, squid, those little phosphorescent plankton that glow around us when we swim in the Med' etc... appear yellow, green, blue simply because they are physically emitting light of the relevent wavelength - a bit like an LED. And finally one can use interference to refract light and reflect it at a different wavelength to that receieved. Most butterflies are not actually coloured, they have no pigments in their wings, but they appear multi-coloured because the tiny scales on their wing create interference patterns and so reflect light in very specific wavelengths. I think many plants, or more exactly their flowers, pull off the same trick, creating interference patterns to create "the illusion" of colour. And plants probably do so both in the (human) visible range but also into the ultra violet, and do so specifically for the benefit/manipulation of bees and butterflies (who are of course already doing the same thing themselves - ie playing with light interference).

But just to continue the theme of the colours of metals... modern titanium jewellery, with it's lustrous yellow, pink and blues shades, is due to oxidation of the surface. But the oxides themselves are not pink, yellow or blue (a big lump of titanium oxide is actually white) but they appear coloured because on an atomic scale they interfere with the light to change the apparent wavelength of that they reflect ... and so we see them as pink, yellow, blue etc.
Back to top Go down
Islanddawn
Censura
avatar

Posts : 2060
Join date : 2012-01-05
Location : Greece

PostSubject: Re: Colour words in history   Tue 12 Jun 2012, 04:10

@The Man From Devana wrote:
We run the risk of assuming that the word they are using is describing what we think it is describing. We have a particular belief about what bronze (the colour) is. It might be very different from what is actually being described. What colour is bronze when it has been left to oxidize for a long time?

And not only bronze, but we have a particular belief of what most other colours are also, which can differ not only from past interpretations but also can differ according to area. And now I think I'm straying into an area that has already been discussed above.

Enough of that 9 carat rubbish there MM. My 18 stuff has all worn so thin that I am hardly game to wear it anymore, can't see the sense in it. Yet the 9 carat is still almost as good as new, but then I don't care about the value. If I like something then I want to wear it and not have to worry about it breaking and getting lost.
Back to top Go down
Caro
Censura
avatar

Posts : 1085
Join date : 2012-01-09

PostSubject: Re: Colour words in history   Mon 06 Aug 2012, 06:54

Colour came up on another board and I pointed people here. The discussion ensuing, which is a little sideways from here and more language oriented, is found here, if you are interested:

http://s4.zetaboards.com/Radio4forum/topic/9662734/1/#new
Back to top Go down
ferval
Censura
avatar

Posts : 2494
Join date : 2011-12-27

PostSubject: Re: Colour words in history   Sat 18 Aug 2012, 15:18

Caro, I was just about to point you in the direction of the Steven Fry programme when I thought that you'd be talking about it on Zeta and lo, you are.

It has started me off thinking about this again and particularly the no Greek word for blue business. Could it be that we're thinking about this the wrong way round? To explain, could someone who knows about these things tell me: was there an English word for 'orange' before the introduction of the orange? Or 'lemon' before the lemon? Gold also conveys the material and the colour so could the Greek word for 'sky' also incorporate its colour? Did they have more than one word for 'sky'? Are there any words derived from their word for sky applied to anything else?

I don't agree we that we only have one word for 'blue', we have many and even in the rainbow, we distinguish between 'blue' and 'indigo', it's just that, I think, 'blue' suffices in general conversation while 'red' and 'pink' have aquired very different connotations and we feel a need to differentiate.

http://www.bbc.co.uk/iplayer/episode/b01lv4ng/Frys_English_Delight_Series_5_Episode_1/
Back to top Go down
Meles meles
Censura
avatar

Posts : 2748
Join date : 2011-12-30
Location : Pyrénées-Orientales, France

PostSubject: Re: Colour words in history   Sat 18 Aug 2012, 15:56

@ferval wrote:
.... was there an English word for 'orange' before the introduction of the orange? Or 'lemon' before the lemon?

It's not very helpful to the current discussion but I used to have a battered old English dictionary that rather cyclically defined orange as:

Orange (noun) : an orange coloured fruit.

Orange (adjective) : the colour of an orange.

It also and equally unhelpfully defined the colour green as : the colour of green things. Shocked But then again it is almost impossible to define colours in words without making reference to "standard" distinctively coloured objects to which everyone is familier.
Back to top Go down
ferval
Censura
avatar

Posts : 2494
Join date : 2011-12-27

PostSubject: Re: Colour words in history   Sat 18 Aug 2012, 16:25

Orange - the OED gives the first use, in the colour sense, as 1532 but 1400 as the fruit. Lemon is also 1400 for the fruit but not until 1794 for the colour.

What I was trying to get at was, when the Greeks used the word 'sky' did it possibly convey the sense of 'blue' in the same way we cannot say 'orange' or 'gold' without it carrying both meanings, the object and its colour?

You can't access the BBC stuff, can you? You should find out from Caro how she manages to do it.
Back to top Go down
nordmann
Nobiles Barbariæ
avatar

Posts : 5631
Join date : 2011-12-25

PostSubject: Re: Colour words in history   Sat 18 Aug 2012, 17:02

I listened to Fry and Hockney's programme the other day and had the same doubts about some of the claims made - most particularly in the counter-intuitive claim that a colour cannot be seen if it has not already had a word coined for it. This was way too strong a statement, even if I know what Stephen Fry was trying to get at - that colour distinction is a facet of our consciousness advertised completely by the words we use.

The point about Homer's words to describe the sky was also a valid one - especially when Fry likened it to the modern Dulux colour range where existing language fails to provide enough ready-made terms to cover all the subtle distinctions so the person in charge of deciding such things is forced to resort to borrowing terms designed to convey something quite other, but which she hopes are both evocative enough and accurate enough therefore to describe the shades in question. In effect she is tackling the same problem as Homer tackled using exactly the same technique to solve the quandary in which a lack of linguistic sortcuts has placed her. Homer couldn't use "blue" as it hadn't been coined in his culture. She has the same problem.

I agree with you, ferval, about English and "blue". The term "azure" might have been borrowed late from Italian but I would suggest it now fulfils exactly the same function in the former instance. Coventry City Football Club might play in "sky blue" and this term will be readily understood as such, but none of us are either colour-blind or illiterate enough to ever confuse this with "azure", another term which derives heavily from an attempt to describe a blue found primarily in sky- and seascape. Their dictionary definitions might bear a remarkable similarity, but the distinction between them in terms of our perception of both the colour and the language used to describe it could not be more marked.

I don't think either that language in fact is a good indicator or evidence of fundamental shifts in shade perception over our history. What most definitely does change in history however is our perception of the character of a colour. Pink, being a close relative of red for example, was until relatively recently associated with maleness and the colour of choice in which to dress baby boys. Blue, a traditional symbol of purity (a la Virgin Mary et al) was at the same time the colour of choice in which to dress baby girls in western culture. The language and the shade perception in both cases has remained remarkably static over many centuries of English linguistic development, but the popular ascription of character to each has now been completely swapped round. When reading mention of colour in historical texts it is of this which one must be most wary, I feel.
Back to top Go down
https://reshistorica.historyboard.net
ferval
Censura
avatar

Posts : 2494
Join date : 2011-12-27

PostSubject: Re: Colour words in history   Sat 18 Aug 2012, 17:15

I'm ploughing through this, the second part is interesting about the left brain linkage between colour and language and differences in perception between right and left visual fields. http://www.empiricalzeal.com/2012/06/05/the-crayola-fication-of-the-world-how-we-gave-colors-names-and-it-messed-with-our-brains-part-i/ I'll come back when I've finished but what do others think?
I tried the original Colour Survey doc but the statistical stuff was a bit much. http://www.pnas.org/content/106/47/19785.full.pdf+html
Back to top Go down
Vizzer
Decemviratus Legibus Scribundis
avatar

Posts : 784
Join date : 2012-05-12

PostSubject: Re: Colour words in history   Sat 25 Jan 2014, 23:32

@Meles meles wrote:
@Gilgamesh of Uruk wrote:
... is it a bluey-green or a greeny-blue etc..
Bear in mind also Gil that quite a few languages, particularly in Africa and Asia, make no distinction between blue and green but have a general term that covers both. Linguistically this single colour is known in English as grue. Hence one has leaf-grue (ie green) and sky-grue (ie blue) etc..

Welsh and Gaelic also traditionally made little or no distinction between blue and green. The word glas tended to be used for both colours and also for grey. That said - a lot depended on the actual shades in question. Modern Welsh, however, now tends to use gwyrdd for green.
Back to top Go down
ferval
Censura
avatar

Posts : 2494
Join date : 2011-12-27

PostSubject: Re: Colour words in history   Sat 25 Jan 2014, 23:40

That's interesting about the Gaelic Viz. How delightfully ironic to think that the Glasgow might be either the dear green or the dear blue place. Or both. For my part though, the dear grey place is probably more accurate - at least at this time of year.
Back to top Go down
Vizzer
Decemviratus Legibus Scribundis
avatar

Posts : 784
Join date : 2012-05-12

PostSubject: Re: Colour words in history   Sun 26 Jan 2014, 00:19

I can't claim to be any form of authority on Gaelic ferval but I think that gorm is also used for blue ... but also sometimes for black. Again, however, shading is important.

On that theme I seem to remember there being quite a row 15 or so years ago in Scotland about exactly which shade of blue should be used in St Andrew's Saltire. It seemed to be that nationalists preferred sky blue while unionists preferred navy blue. The latter, of course, would be in keeping with the shade of blue used in the UK Union Flag. Don't know if the matter was ever resolved or not.
Back to top Go down
nordmann
Nobiles Barbariæ
avatar

Posts : 5631
Join date : 2011-12-25

PostSubject: Re: Colour words in history   Sun 26 Jan 2014, 00:32

As every Dubliner will tell you the Gaelic for black is "dubh". But you're right about "gorm" (blue) when one is talking about what in English is referred to as black-skinned people. In Irish a "fear dubh" is a man with black hair, not skin, whereas a "fear gorm" (blue man) refers to a very dark-skinned man, blue being the perception of the sheen his skin exhibits in strong light. I have never heard "glas" being used for any colour except green however.
Back to top Go down
https://reshistorica.historyboard.net
LadyinRetirement
Decemviratus Legibus Scribundis
avatar

Posts : 684
Join date : 2013-09-16

PostSubject: Re: Colour words in history   Tue 28 Jan 2014, 08:27

I wish I knew more of the celtic languages. I know very little. I know that Welsh sometimes mutates "bach"=little becomes "fach". The Irish tune "Roisin Dubh" is well known - and I recall my Mum talking about "Morgan Du" [Black Morgan] the Pirate - it sounded like "Morgan Thee" when she said it. There was a young man trying to give very basic old English lessons on YouTube but it seems the site was taken over by a group who were more right wing than the BNP. I do realise Old English is not Celtic.

On colours, at primary school we learned the sentence "Richard of York gained battles in vain" to remember the "colours of the rainbow", red, orange, yellow, blue, indigo, violet. I'm pretty sure many other visitors to the board learned the sentence too.  But indigo and violet are hues rather than colours I would say, so one doesn't have to go back to ancient  Greece for an overlap between colours and hues.
Back to top Go down
Islanddawn
Censura
avatar

Posts : 2060
Join date : 2012-01-05
Location : Greece

PostSubject: Re: Colour words in history   Sat 22 Feb 2014, 15:17

Were the ancient Greeks and Romans colour blind? Homer left historians with the impression that the ancient Greeks and Romans had an underdeveloped appreciation of colour. The ancients, in fact, were a shade more sophisticated than that and understood colour in a completely different way to us,

http://www.abc.net.au/radionational/programs/bodysphere/5267698
Back to top Go down
Gilgamesh of Uruk
Censura
avatar

Posts : 1400
Join date : 2011-12-27

PostSubject: Re: Colour words in history   Sat 22 Feb 2014, 17:15

@LadyinRetirement wrote:
I wish I knew more of the celtic languages. I know very little. I know that Welsh sometimes mutates "bach"=little becomes "fach". The Irish tune "Roisin Dubh" is well known - and I recall my Mum talking about "Morgan Du" [Black Morgan] the Pirate - it sounded like "Morgan Thee" when she said it. There was a young man trying to give very basic old English lessons on YouTube but it seems the site was taken over by a group who were more right wing than the BNP. I do realise Old English is not Celtic.

On colours, at primary school we learned the sentence "Richard of York gained battles in vain" to remember the "colours of the rainbow", red, orange, yellow, blue, indigo, violet. I'm pretty sure many other visitors to the board learned the sentence too.  But indigo and violet are hues rather than colours I would say, so one doesn't have to go back to ancient  Greece for an overlap between colours and hues.
There is a view which suggests that the "seven colours" of the rainbow are to be attributed to the magical power of the number "seven" rather than to the reality of seven colours actually present - like the "seven sisters" of the pleiades, which aren't really just 7 visible to the naked eye (in ideal conditions up to 14 can be seen unaided of the 36 Galileo catalogued).
Back to top Go down
 

Colour words in history

View previous topic View next topic Back to top 
Page 1 of 1

Permissions in this forum:You cannot reply to topics in this forum
Res Historica History Forum :: The history of expression ... :: Language-