Friday, March 16, 2007

The naming of colors

Today's post is prompted by some magnificent collisions of colour that I witnessed on the tube this morning. A bright fruschia wrap casually drapped on a lady was lodged next to a brilliant turquoise on another fellow commuter. One rarely sees such vibrant splashes of colour in the dull, grey expanse of city workers in the morning rush. There was an inspired combination of maroon on beige, vermillion and grey and orange on brown (damn, where's my bloody camera when you need one!)

I then remembered a young temp at a previous firm who was amassing booze money over the summer holidays for his next term at Cambridge. Young boffin had a habit of sending emails in Latin (??!!) and endeared himself to no one by constantly correcting their grammar and punctuation which only served to make us feel like naughty schoolchildren. (How cheeky, honestly young people these days have no tact!). But young boffin was clearly quite intelligent and would someday join the legion of crusty academics coccooned off another planet. He told me that he wanted to do a Phd on Modern Languages and went on to explain his idea for his dissertation which would examine how different cultures with their different languages develope their own terms of reference to describe colour. Of course, whilst boffin was going off in a mini-lecture, I drifted off hardly listening much like most of my time at college.

But today, I was struck by how young boffin had an interesting point. The word 'blue' doesn't just describe a visual shade of pigment but also a state of being low. Black is synonymous with evil, white with purity and good, green with envy... and I remember one of my most heated arguements with Gruff was over colour. I insisted something was blue and he was convinced it was green... i kid you not, this debate went on for hours and even spilled over into the next day.

Me: 'It's so blue, it can't be anything else!'

Gruff: 'That's not blue, it's definitely green!'

Me: 'You must be blind then because it's blue'

Gruff: 'It's green, anyone can see that...!' (you get the picture and yes, perhaps Gruff & I should get out a bit more)

I also remember my grandfather's funeral when an aunt who was already disliked by the whole clan had the gumption to wear red - a colour symbolising celebration and joy. More howls of weeping and consternation followed and said aunt became further ostracised. Funny how colour can evoke such strong passions.

Don't know about you, but I'm off to study the colour wheel now!

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