Thursday, October 3, 2013

Language of Confusion: More Colorful

We had most of the standard colors, now it’s time for the rest.

First showed up in the 1570s when it was a common name for a plant. It didn’t emerge as a color until the seventeenth century. For the record, pinkie finger has nothing to do with the color. It’s actually from a Dutch word, pinkje, which means little finger. There’s also the pink that’s part of pinking shears, which isn’t related to pink or pinkie either.

This should surprise no one, but before it was a color, it was just the plant. It showed up in the early fourteenth century, and much like how orange the color derived from orange the fruit, violet comes from the flower.

Showed up in the mid-sixteenth century and shockingly enough, it comes from the Spanish inico, which itself comes from Dutch (indigo) by way of Portuguese (endego). Seriously, that’s how the word came to English. But of course Latin is involved, because indigo and endego come from the classical Latin indicum, taken from the Greek indikon. It literally means blue dye from India. The idea for the color comes from that dye.

This one is absolutely awesome. Teal was originally only a word for a species of small duck. Using it a color didn’t happen until 1923, where it was named for the blue-green colors on the bird’s head and wings.

Comes from the Old English tannian, a word for tanning hide into leather, which was done using tannin. Tannian comes from the Medieval Latin tannare, a word for the color tan which is derived from tannum, crushed oak bark.

First showed up as an adjective coming from the Old English brun, dusky, from the Proto Germanic brunaz and further back, the Proto Indo European bher, shining or brown. Yes, brown really did once mean shining. You know how burnish means to polish something? That has the same origin as brown.

TL;DR: most color names come from things that have the colors.

Ducks Unlimited because of course that’s a thing.
Tony Jebson’s page on the Origins of Old English


  1. What can brown do for you?
    Teal's a very new color. I didn't even know it was a duck.

  2. My parents, of Dutch stock, would be shocked at the thought of Dutch and Spanish having an influence on each other. It seems the Dutch still remember a war that happened four centuries ago with a bit of a grudge...

  3. I personally think your Confusion series should get 500 comments for every post, just 'cause it's fascinating. :)

    Ducks are cute!

    And re: your comment you left on my blog, I totally agree - both my cats are quite needy, particularly the boy. The girl is more timid about asking for affection, but she's a very snuggly girl.

  4. I've used teal as a name for a nomadic tribe in one of my stories. I guess I should change that, huh? If the color came from a duck. Then again...

  5. This is fascinating. My school uniform was teal, and while I knew there was a duck called a teal, it never occurred to me that the color and the bird were linked. Yeah, I'm slow... But I'm rough and expensive too!

  6. Pink's my favourite colour, so I was fascinated to read its history. Colour is so important to us.


Please validate me.