Monday, February 10, 2014

Word of the Week - Colors

We have so many beautiful color names, that all describe beautiful shades--which surely existed forever, right? Maybe...but the words sure didn't! So today, a few quick lessons on when some of those shade names joined the English language. =)
Indian Pigments (image by Dan Brady)

Cerulean is for the blue-green family, and dates from the 1660s. So we historical writers will want to use that one instead of...

Teal - not used for a color until 1923! Before that, "teal" just meant a small duck, whose head is said color. We took the color name from the duck name, not the other way around.

Fuchsia, which I can NEVER spell without the help of a dictionary, was the name of a plant in the 1700s, but didn't get applied to the reddish-purple color in general until 1923.

And don't think you can instead use magenta! Magenta was so-called in honor of a battle in a town called Magenta in Italy in 1860, where a rich dye was discovered soon after the fighting ended.

Turquoise - again, the stone has been known and named a goodly while--since the 1560s. But it wasn't used to describe the color until 1853.

Lavender has the same story. The plant has been a word since the 1300s, but apparently people didn't use it for the color until 1840.

Aubergine is an eggplant--the original word for it. The deep purple color we associate with eggplant was also first called aubergine (the first veggie called "eggplant" was apparently a white variety, oddly...). But keeping in this pattern, it wasn't actually applied to the word until 1895.

Okay, that should do us for today. ;-) Have a colorful one!


  1. The colors look so pretty. Interesting how the usage changes over time.

  2. Awesome! So what I have wondered for a while is which came first Lavender the plant name or Lavenderia, the Spanish word for laundry mat? Do we call them lavender flowers because they were used to freshen laundry? Or, is a Lavendaria called that because that is where lavender flowers were used?

    1. It looks like the plant is from the Medieval Latin "lavendula," which is indeed associated with the Latin "lavare," which means "to wash," because it was used in baths. So the Spanish definite comes from the same root!

    2. Thanks for looking that up! : )

  3. I think it is interesting the egg plant has a name for that color because people describe colors as egg plant... :)
    So much about colors I didn't know... Thanks for sharing!