How Colors Got Their Names

by Christopher Paul on July 12, 2012

Interesting (and long two part) article on the history of colors, how they were named, and how the naming of colors affects our brains. Here’s just a small snippet that I found fascinating:

Languages have differing numbers of color words, ranging from two to about eleven. Yet after looking at 98 different languages, they saw a pattern. It was a pretty radical idea, that there is a certain fixed order in which these color names arise. This was a common path that languages seem to follow, a road towards increasing visual diversity.


What it says is this. If a language has just two color terms, they will be a light and a dark shade – blacks and whites. Add a third color, and it’s going to be red. Add another, and it will be either green or yellow – you need five colors to have both. And when you get to six colors, the green splits into two, and you now have a blue. What we’re seeing here is a deeply trodden road that most languages seem to follow, towards greater visual discernment (92 of their 98 languages seemed to follow this basic route).

So even though linguistically and culturally, we can be different, the process in which colors are named is statistically the same.

via Kottke

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