It is autumn here, and as the woods and greenery break out in plaid around us, one's thoughts naturally turn to the glorious beauties of color. Indeed, our bulletin board itself seems to have turned to that subject.
This week we'll sample some unusual color-names that could vivify our speech. For the most part we'll choose colors you could fix in your mind by using them, either aloud or in your thoughts, to describe the fall colors around you. Recalling the word testaceous (brick red), which we saw about a week ago, let's begin with some leaf-words.
[This message was edited by wordcrafter on Sun Oct 20th, 2002 at 18:31.]
filemot – the yellowish brown color of a faded leaf
The word, which has many varient spellings, is an anglicized and corrupted version of feuillemorte, literally "dead leaf" in French.
quote:Leaves may also be brunneous – dark brown.
This color-name is chiefly used is biology (esp. birds, mushrooms, and shells), often in the form of brunneus.
festucine – straw-yellow
from Latin festuca = "stalk," or "straw"
Often, in preparing this thread on obscure color-words, I found confusion amid the dictionaries. Today's word is the first of several confusing cases.
Webster's defines festucine as "straw-colored; greenish-yellow", which to my eye is contradictory: straw is not greenish. The word does not appear in AHD, in Grandiloquent Dictionary, or in Mrs. Byrne's dictionary, and onelook.com provides no further help.
OED, the ultimate authority, says "festucine: straw-colored", which begs the question: What color is that? OED gives one quote implying greenish, but gives another quote denying greenish:
I have resolved this in favor of the definion above, based on the word in (rare) use:
castaneous – chestnut-colored
(the chestnut tree is genus Castanea)
ferruginous – the reddish-brown color of iron rust
(recall that the chemical symbol for iron is Fe for ferrus)
Bewick's British Birds (1832) includes pictures of the castaneous duck and the ferruginous duck, unfortunately not in color. But you can view shells with castaneus markings online (second and fourth large pictures; notice the latinate spelling).
pavonine – with the iridesence of a peacock's tail
The word also means peacock-like, in the manner of such words as canine, feline, etc.
eau de nil – light green; literally, "water of the nile".
An unusual term, not listed in OED. The British Colour Council's Dictionary of Colour Standards 1938, rev. 1951, says this color was previously called "baltic".
But the word-in-use seems to refer to a deeper gray-green. Here are examples from turn-of-the-century women's fashion and from today's advertising (left item of 2nd pair down).
I think "ferruginous" is sometimes used for taste, when water or beer has an off-taste of iron: ferruginous beer.
caesious - pale blue with a hint of grey
The dictionaries conflict on this word. Amid them, you can find it defined as
The definition given above seems most consistent with sources that list the Latin "caesius" as meaning sky blue or heavenly blue. This Latin gave us the name of the chemical element caesium, from the color of that element's spectrographic lines.
You can see a stunning example of this color in a recent artwork titled Caesius Blue Persian. You can also view larger collection of which that work is part.
Forgive my long-windedness here. This is a tangled tale of "glaucous", which oddly seems to mean two completely different colors: a blue-tinged white or light gray, or a greenish color. Our board notes sources that define this word as " green-yellow", as "pale yellow-green", as "blue-green", and as "blue-gray or gray". (Thanks, Tinman!) M-W Collegiate says:
glaucous – 1 a: of a pale yellow-green color; b: of a light bluish gray or bluish white color
The bluish-white/gray meaning ties in with ripe autumn fruits. Recall that red plums or red grapes will often have a waxy or powdery coating, whitish with a blue tinge, that can be rubbed or washed off. That coating is called "bloom", and fruits or other plants with bloom are called "glaucous".
By extension, "glaucous" would mean the color of that bloom: a blue-tinged light gray. This seems consistent with Greek glaukos = gray. Compare our word "glaucoma". Through 1705 that term referred to cataracts of the eyes (which was not then recognized as a distinct condition), and I believe that cataracts make the eyes a milky bluish-gray. Can any of our readers advise?
The yellow/green meaning is sometimes called "sea-green", and may perhaps trace back to the name "Glaucus", a minor sea-god in Greek myth.
OED seems to straddle between bluish and greenish. It defines glaucous as "covered with bloom", and illustrates "bloom" by quoting Dr. Johnson's 1755 dictionary: "the blue color upon plums and grapes newly gathered". But OED also defines glaucous as "of a dull or pale green color passing into grayish blue".
[This message was edited by wordcrafter on Sat Oct 26th, 2002 at 18:38.]
The glass artwork that Wordcrafter cited to is by Dale Chihuly.
Chihuly has a wonderful show here in Chicago, with his works set amid the foliage of our our Garfield Park. Here is a sample from Chihuly's website; from there you can link back to his home page, and then to the page for this show.
Chihuly's website unfortunately doesn't have thumbnails, so it's a bit slow, but it's well worth a look.
Yes, I have seen the Chihuly exhibit, and it is fascinating!
BTW, I love this thread. I thought "The Grandiloquent Dictionary" had the best words about colors, but your thread is better. I especially like your discussions.
While looking up something in Plant ID Terminology, I came across three more "color" words: caerulescent - bluish; ebeneous - black; eburneous - ivory-white.
[This message was edited by tinman on Tue Nov 12th, 2002 at 23:17.]