In grade school in the '30s I was taught the seven colors of the rainbow through the mnemonic name Roy G. Biv. Start with these and add a couple for brown and gray (grey in Cecil’s column) and you get about nine as a basis on which to build - though indigo does not seem very basic. The other six do include the three primary and the combinations from mixing them in pairs.

Are you your own father??

If cmoose was in grade school in the 30s, his father may have still been in his 30s during World War II.

Assume a birthdate for cmoose of 1932, putting his first three years of schooling in the 30s. His father may have been born as late as 1912, which would make him only 34 in 1946. Perhaps too old for the draft, but not too old to be in the military, surely!

(More importantly, what the heck column is this in reference to?)
Powers &8^]

cmoose, when you start a thread, it’s helpful to other readers if you provide a link to the column you’re commenting on. Otherwise, we’re all confused about the context of what you’re saying. If you could give us some hint, like a link or the name of the column, that would be helpful. thanks.

I’m hoping it’s this one because that was my 15 minutes.

I was always taught that the rainbow went red-orange-yellow-green-blue-purple. Indigo got left out for whatever reason. Then again, how many colors are in the rainbow seems to depend on whom you ask. (PDF)

could color’s names be restricted in cultures to the dyes available to them at the time, beyond just black and white?

umop ap!sdn said:

Newton was into numerology. When he split the spectrum, he decided 6 major colors was bad because 6 was the number of the devil. But 7 was the number for God, so he decided to make 7 major colors. Therefore, he chose to split blue and violet into three colors, and add indigo.

Technically, he chose “violet” over “purple”. I am at a loss to describe what, if any, distinction is made. But for whatever reason, colors of light are described using “violet”, not “purple”.

I had problems with that paper. First, what does it mean “mark the extreme edge of the rainbow”? How is “rainbow” being differentiated from the whole color line being shown?

Second, they chose to confuse the color naming by using violet and purple in their naming convention. They appear to have renamed “indigo” as “violet”, and then renamed the original “violet” as “purple”. That makes rather a mess of the colors in that zone, especially for anyone who learned ROYGBIV - and plenty of college undergrads learned it in gradeschool or Jr High art classes. I learned it in seventh grade. So asking the question “What is the best exemplar of Violet?” is going to involve not only the original confusion of violet vs purple, but also violet vs indigo that is unstated but remembered from other instruction.

It also appears that the color gradations are a bit scrambled, especially in the blue to violet region. The colors get lighter, then darker, then lighter. E.g. it looks like a piece of “violet” is shifted over and wedged between two pieces of “purple”.

Violet is a spectral color–a single wavelength, and what you get by taking a narrow band of the bluish side of a rainbow. Purple is a mix of red and blue light. Perceptually these are fairly close, and virtually all display devices simulate violet with a color close to purple, because they can’t actually produce violet. But they can be distinguished, both by instruments and the eye.

I believe the poster was talking about this column: Could Early Man See Only Three Colors?

The problem is that there aren’t all that many important colors out there. If a language has three colors, red is that color. Red dye from ochre has been around since ancient times. Red is the color of blood, etc.

Green/Yellow come next and basically represent something that’s not red. Green and yellow are common in nature, but it’s not a dye that man can readily use.

Blue is one of the last colors to be named. Blue dye is rare in the natural world and really didn’t become common until the 19th century. At one time, blue was only reserved for royalty. The Romans forbade the Jews from using techelet (a blue dye that comes from some mollusk) on their tzitzit. The bowerbird has a big preference for blue objects when constructing its bowers because blue is so hard to obtain.

Orange was one of the last colors introduced in the English language. It was named after the fruit orange and it was first used in the 16th century. Until then, people used either red, yellow, or ġeolurēad which means yellowish red.

Basically, until we start using a particular color, we simply do without a word for it.

Next we contemplate the eternally perplexing question of how to write rhyming poetry referring to the colors orange, silver, and purple. I suppose some “expert” will suggest the terms originated from some primitive tribe that didn’t have the concept of poetry.

I thought the gist of the paper was that people differ in how many bands of color they see, irrespective of what names they give them, but I admit I mostly skimmed it and looked at the illustrations. :slight_smile:

I’m surprised that Cecil doesn’t mention Proto-Indo-European, spoken around 7000 years ago by a culture presumably much less advanced than the ancient Greeks. P.I.E. had many color names off the top of my head:

*neg[sup]w[/sup]-ro- – black
*alb[sup]h[/sup]o- or *k[sup]w[/sup]eid- – white
*ǝ[sub]1[/sub]reud[sup]h[/sup]-ro- – red
*badyo- – yellow
*b[sup]h[/sup]lōro-, *g[sup]h[/sup]lōro- – yellow, green, or blue
*g[sup]h[/sup]rēn- – green
*sloi-ro- – bluish
*kas-no-, *gsupw[/sup]īd-, *koi-ro-, *kyē-, *sal- – various words for “gray”, “grayish”
*pel- – pale, gray
*b[sup]h[/sup]rū-no- – brown
*el- – red, brown

(Source: The American Heritage Dictionary, whose PIE roots section is unfortunately no longer available online.)

So there is evidence of numerous color names going back a long time.

Which does mixing red and blue pigments create?

Cecil wouldn’t just do a book summary. He’d rely on his knowledge of all known languages; actually, just a few languages would do. It would be fair to say that Berlin and Kay have been heavily criticized; the Wiki has some stuff:

A common problem with linguists, especially poignant among those working in the area of language universals, is that they don’t often have a good command of the languages they’re working in, unless those happen to be their native tongues. And that it intended as a warning about the following paragraph, especially since I’m working from some rather dim memories, but …

… if I recall correctly, B&K’s scheme doesn’t work for Welsh, since that language has two terms for red (rhudd and coch) and only one for green + blue (glas). And it works even less well for Irish, since that language has two terms for green (mineral green, and vegetable green), and also a term for “metallic,” which is considered a color.

B&K, in fact, have considerably loosened their scheme since they published their book. Surely Cecil wouldn’t regugitate such an incorrect column without some sort of apology, and the most appropriate kind of apology would be for not noticing that someone less capable than he (which would be pretty much anyone) had actually written the thing in the first place.

It depends very much on the pigments. For nearly ideal pigments, which stack multiplicatively and have narrow-band spectra around their respective colors, the answer for mixing red and blue is black.

The real world is more complicated, of course. Pigments do not mix perfectly, and their spectra are not narrow-band. So in practice, red and blue pigments often produce a dark purple.

Normally it’s said that mixing light works additively; mixing pigments works subtractively, but this is not completely true. Mixed pigments can have an additive color component. One might imagine that some pigments consist of small colored balls which can be mixed thoroughly, but where the original colors still exist at the smallest scale. Or imagine the output of an inkjet printer where it might alternate dots of color without mixing or stacking them. In either case, light is not perfectly absorbed by both pigments (merely one or the other), and thus the reflected color is an additive mix of these components. For red and blue, this again makes some shade of purple.

In re: orange, consider “red” hair. Another traditional word is “ginger”, still used for both cats and humans in the UK. (And making some current inroads into the US because of Ron Weasly/Rupert Grint.) And then there’s “tawny” (or “tenné” in heraldry).

Most languages don’t have a word for “pink”. Russian has a distinct word for “sky blue”.

“Orange”, “pink”, “ginger”, “violet”, and “indigo” are all relatively new words in English, still identical in form to the non-color words they derive from.

For that matter, so does English: azure.

What’s more important is that the Russian equivalent of azure is not considered a shade of blue, but a distinct color in its own right. In other words, they would never say “The sky is blue”, whereas an English speaker might say either “The sky is blue” or “The sky is azure.”
Powers &8^]

??? Google translate says otherwise.

I thought azure looked like this. Like deep water free of algae etc.

This isn’t really true. If you read his Optics, Newton was clearly drawing an analogy between the tones of music and the colors of the spectrum*. His choice of seven colors was thus drawn from the seven notes in an octave (rejecting the one at the top of the octave – Red Orange Yellow Green Blue Indigo Violet was the Do Re Mi Fa Sol La Ti of the visible scale.

  • (He came incredibly close to declaring light a wave, with wavelengths and frequencies, which would have made his analogy even better, but he ultimately preferred the corpuscular theory of light to the wave theory)