I vaguely remember some things about colour semantics from linguistics courses I took at university and reading since. The division of the spectrum into colours (or American colors) is entirely arbitrary. One language may have a word for “blue” which overlaps with another language’s “green”. In fact some languages have no word for “green” or have several, which may overlap with “yellow”. There is simply no arguing about colours.
But apparently the naming of colours is not entirely random. I read that if a language has only one colour word, it will designate “red”.
The next colour to be named is “black”, then “white” and “yellow”. That these four colours are the names of our “race” colours is probably not a coincidence, since the Ancient Egyptians used the same four colours (albeit for a totally different selection of races from those we have constructed for ourselves today).
The Greeks used the same word for Greek “skin tone” and for green. Today we call the Greeks “olive” complected, so in a sense so do we. But I digress. Racial colour distinctions are as arbitrary as the colours of the spectrum–everything blurs between populations, and even more so within them.
Why the colours are named in a set order is difficult to say. Perhaps striking colours are named first red versus black, black versus white, and then the finer distinctions are filled in afterwards. Or perhaps colour names are only invented by artists–the first paintings are done with ochre (red) and then soot (black) and clay-based pigments (white and yellow).
Nowadays, interior decorators, clothing designers, and marketeers invent most of our colour names. That is where we got “forest” and “navy”. Fuschia and chartreuse do not exist in nature, let alone locker rooms.
By the way, the colour “mauve” was the first entirely man-made colour invented in the laboratory. It became a “high-tech” fad in the mid-nineteenth century. It was invented by William Henry Perkins.
It reminds me of the “Blackadder” episode where the Elizabethan twit, Sir Percy Percy, invents what he calls “precious green” whilst attempting the transmutation of base metals into “gold”.
It looks a little too green to be copper sulphate. I suspect that the silly fop has discovered the secret of transmuting base metals into emeralds. Alas, a poor alchemist just gets no respect from his scientific peers, unless he is a Newton, in which case he gets to add a seventh colour to the rainbow to make it come out in accord with his wacky alchemical theories.