The Bizarre Origins of Words for Colors

Have you ever stopped to think about how we come up with words to describe the colors we see? It may seem like a simple task, but the origins of words for colors can be quite bizarre and fascinating. In this blog post, we will explore the peculiar origins of some commonly used color words.

Mellow Yellow

Let's start with the color yellow. The word "yellow" can be traced back to the Old English word "geolu." Interestingly, the word "geolu" was also used to describe the color green! Yes, you heard that right. In Old English, the word for both yellow and green was the same. This may seem strange to us today, but it highlights the fluidity of language and how meanings can change over time.

Red: The Color of Blood and Royalty

The color red has always held a certain significance in various cultures. In ancient Rome, the word for red was "russus," which is believed to have originated from the Latin word "rubens," meaning "red" or "bloody." This association with blood is not surprising, considering that red is often associated with vitality and passion.

In ancient Egypt, the color red was also highly symbolic. The Egyptians associated red with the god Set, who was the god of chaos and violence. Red was seen as a powerful and dangerous color, representing both life and death.

Interestingly, the color red has also been associated with royalty throughout history. In ancient Rome, emperors and important figures would wear red togas as a symbol of their status. This tradition continued in medieval Europe, where red was seen as a regal color, reserved for kings and queens.

The Blue Blues

The word "blue" has a rather peculiar origin. It can be traced back to the Proto-Indo-European root word "bhle-was," which meant "to shine" or "gleam." This root word eventually evolved into "blao" in Old English, which later became "blue." The interesting thing about this word is that it didn't actually refer to the color blue originally.

In fact, the word "blue" was used to describe any color that was dark or gloomy. It wasn't until the 13th century that "blue" became specifically associated with the color we know today. This shift in meaning may have been influenced by the popularity of the gemstone lapis lazuli, which was used to produce a vibrant blue pigment.

Green with Envy

The word "green" has a diverse range of meanings and associations across different cultures. In Old English, as mentioned earlier, "geolu" was used to describe both yellow and green. However, over time, the word "green" began to refer specifically to the color we now know as green.

In many cultures, green is associated with nature, growth, and fertility. This association can be traced back to ancient beliefs that green was the color of life and renewal. For example, in ancient Egypt, the color green was associated with Osiris, the god of rebirth and fertility.

Interestingly, the word "green" is also associated with envy in many languages. This association can be traced back to Shakespeare's play "Othello," where the character Iago famously says, "Beware, my lord, of jealousy; it is the green-eyed monster."

The Colorful Tapestry of Language

Language is a remarkable tool that allows us to communicate and express ourselves. The origins of words for colors reflect the rich tapestry of human culture and history. From the fluidity of Old English to the symbolic meanings of colors in ancient civilizations, the origins of color words are indeed bizarre and fascinating.

Next time you use a color word, take a moment to reflect on its origins and the stories it carries. You'll discover a whole new world of linguistic quirks and cultural significance. After all, language is not just a means of communication; it is a window into our collective human experience.