Sunday, February 25, 2007

Uncoding Colors

I purchased a new printer recently, and it differs from my previous printer in that there are now four cartridges to work with instead of the earlier, simpler two (one color and one black). Now I deal with black, magenta, cyan, and yellow. Interesting words.

Black comes from the Old English blaec. In turn, that descended from the extended Indo-European bhleg-, a root connected to shining, flashing, and burning. The color of something burned certainly is appropriate to black, and that same root form led to flame, conflagration, and flammable. Oddly enough, variations of that root led to bleached, blonde, and other bright concepts. Strange bedfellows.

Yellow comes from the Old English geolu, and it derived from the Indo-European ghel-, a root that referred to bright colors and materials, including gold. Gleam, glint, glimmer, glitter, and glisten are related; we’re talking serious bling here.

Cyan is a greenish-blue, and it comes from the Greek word kuanos, dark blue. It was used by classical writers to describe the iridescent hues of a serpent, the shiny plumage of a swallow, the deep color of the sea, and shimmering masses of oiled hair.

Magenta is a purplish-red, and unlike the previous three, it owes its name to a battle and a place, the town of Magenta in northwest Italy. Prior to the 1859 battle, the color was known as fuchsine (François-Emmanuel Verguin) or roseine (Edward Chambers Nicholson). Someone decided that the word magenta would tickle the public fancy more. It also saved the world from tittering typos resulting from misspelling fuchsine.

Sidebar: listen to the U.K.’s Magenta

Sidebar: a short history of Italy

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Anonymous Anonymous said...

Magenta originally referred to the dye, as did fuchsine and roseine. Fuchsine was trademarked and used more in France, while magenta was used more in England. I'm not sure when magenta became considered a color name in its own right, in addition to referring to the dye, but it's easy to see how that would happen. Magenta can still refer to the dye, although fuchsine or the scientific name rosaniline hydrochloride are more common.

Verguin discovered the dye, but I think Renard (to whom he sold it that same year) named it fuchsine; etymology varies (either from the flower fuchsia named after botanist Fuchs vs. from the german translation of Renard, "Fuchs").

3:16 AM  
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2:09 AM  

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