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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.]
 
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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:
The walls were paneled; each panel was comparted like a modern office-desk, and each compartment crowded with labelled folios all filemot with age and use.
-– Ben Hur by Lew Wallace, chap. 3
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.
 
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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:
  • 1646: "a little insect of a festucine or pale green, resembling ... what we call a grasshopper"
  • 1874: "Her turquoise eyes suited her festucine hair" (one does not imagine that that woman had greenish hair)

I have resolved this in favor of the definion above, based on the word in (rare) use:
quote:
Sir Paul McCartney has scattered the ashes of his late wife Linda, 56, on the family's southern England farm, newspapers said. She died Sunday of breast cancer. The former Beatle and his festucine-haired wife--whom he celebrated in song as "lovely Linda with the lovely flowers in her hair"--were reportedly apart only one day in their 29-year marriage.
–- quoted on-line as being from the newspapers; source not given.
 
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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).
 
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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.
quote:
I donned mask and flippers and slipped into the pavonine waters to feed the fish by hand. The immense undersea world was enthralling: an aquatic version of the Hanging Garden of Babylon
-- Christopher P. Baker, Travel Journalist, describing Australia's Great Barrier Reef
 
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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).
quote:
You don't have to dabble for very long to begin to realize that the world of smell has no reliable maps, no single language, no comprehensible metaphorical structure ... We can visualize a particular sightly milky green, imagine where it falls on a spectrum chart, look at its neighbours and complemeNtaries, and the finally say that it is, say, "eau de nil" or "pale turquoise" or "jade." ... But the best we seem to be able to do with smells is to evoke comparisons.
-- Scents and Sensibility, Details Magazine, July 1992, by Brian Eno

[In Ireland's Glin Castle] The ornate plasterwork on the ceiling still has its original eau de nil paintwork.
-- Eleanor S. Morris, Romantic Nights In A Knight's Castle (on line)
 
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I think "ferruginous" is sometimes used for taste, when water or beer has an off-taste of iron: ferruginous beer.
 
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caesious - pale blue with a hint of grey

The dictionaries conflict on this word. Amid them, you can find it defined as
  • a kind of blue (with grey or green),
  • a kind of grey (with blue or green), and
  • a kind of green (with grey or blue).
There is even a conflict between OED Reference ("bluish or greyish-green") and OED itself ("blueish or greenish grey").

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.
 
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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:

glaucous1 a: of a pale yellow-green color; b: of a light bluish gray or bluish white color

My speculations:

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?
quote:
The morning was a bright one, and perfectly still and serene, the lake as smooth as glass, we making the only ripple as we paddled into it. The dark mountains about it were seen through a glaucous mist, and the brilliant white stems of canoe birches mingled with the other woods around it.
– Henry David Thoreau, The Maine Woods

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.
quote:
erewhile I slept / Under the glaucous caverns of old Ocean / Within dim bowers of green and purple moss
– Percy Bysshe Shelley, Prometheus Unbound

Loch Leven is a rather shallow loch, seldom much over fifteen feet deep, save where a long narrow rent or geological flaw runs through the bottom. The water is of a queer glaucous green, olive-coloured, or rather like the tint made when you wash out a box of water-colour paints.
– Andrew Lang, Angling Sketches (1891)

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.]
 
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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.
 
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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.
 
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While looking up something in Plant ID Terminology, I came across three more "color" words: caerulescent - bluish; ebeneous - black; eburneous - ivory-white.

Tinman

[This message was edited by tinman on Tue Nov 12th, 2002 at 23:17.]
 
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