Belarusian Is Like a Clump of Soil.

Helen Brown writes about endangered languages; there are the usual laments, but I thought this section was interesting:

As part of the Endangered Poetry Project and to raise awareness of the European languages that are falling between the cracks, [librarian Chris] McCabe has commissioned the artist Mary Kuper to illustrate a series of poems in languages that include Irish Gaelic, Alsatian, Sardinian, Shetlandic, Belarusian and Duval’s beloved Breton for an exhibition called Language Shift.

The daughter of two anthropologists, born in South Africa, educated in Los Angeles and based in London, Kuper has worked for publishers such as The Folio Society and has always been fascinated by words and culture.

“My mother – a white, Jewish Zimbabwean – spoke Swazi,” she says. “As a child I listened to her switch between languages and realised how important language is to identity. I understood what a loss there would be if we lived in an entirely Anglophone world.”

After studying linguistics at university, Kuper worked for a typesetter in LA in the Seventies. “My Jewish boss had learned his trade at 13, when the Nazis had begun excluding Jews from school,” she says. “He fled Poland with his typesetting equipment before the war… he had the Hebrew alphabet in his bag.”

Her haunting illustrations are displayed alongside the poems in the original and in translation. “But I became obsessed with the texture and the integrity of the originals,” points out Kuper. “Each language has its own visual identity. There’s Duval’s spiky Breton, which mirrors her isolation and anger. And then I became fixated on the colours. Each language has different ideas of colour and how it relates to emotion. In Gaelic there’s one word for blue/grey/green so that what we think of as the Emerald Isle is really the blue/grey/green isle, which makes more sense, doesn’t it?” […]

Some of the poets are living and others are dead. Kuper used a vintage German Adler typewriter – “a real Cold War artefact” – to punch the poems over her images “because I felt they deserved something crunchy, definite and organic…”

Valzhyna Mort, an American-based poet whose Belarusian poem has been illustrated for the exhibition, says her language is “like feeling a clump of soil in your hand: there are rocks of different sizes there, a few worms and bugs, soft earth, hard clay. The English of Seamus Heaney has that kind of texture to it.” But she refuses to summarise its complexities for me.

I realize this kind of thing is not actually going to preserve the languages, but not everything in life is about maximum utility. Thanks, Trevor!

Comments

  1. Oh, but I would say this is about utility exactly. This is using the languages. That’s what they’re here for.

  2. “Each language has different ideas of colour and how it relates to emotion. In Gaelic there’s one word for blue/grey/green so that what we think of as the Emerald Isle is really the blue/grey/green isle, which makes more sense, doesn’t it?”

    Oh dear God, no.

    First of all, the expression “The Emerald Isle” is from an English-language poem in which “emerald” means bright green, full stop. It has nothing to do with Gaelic. The point of “emerald” is to make a virtue of the almost constant light rain that leaves sparkling droplets on the grass on the rare occasions that the sun shows itself:

    When Erin first rose from the dark swelling flood,
    God bless’d the green island and saw it was good;
    The em’rald of Europe, it sparkled and shone,
    In the ring of the world the most precious stone …

    Arm of Erin, be strong! but be gentle as brave;
    And uplifted to strike, be still ready to save;
    Let no feeling of vengeance presume to defile
    The cause of, or men of, the Emerald Isle.

    William Drennen, When Erin First Rose (1795).
    Drennen was a Protestant from Belfast and a member of the outlawed (and pro-French) revolutionary organization the United Irishmen, which contended that the “green” of a united and independent Ireland would supplant the “orange” (the color of Irish unionist Protestantism) and the “blue” (St Patrick’s color):

    The cause it is good, and the men they are true,
    And the Green shall outlive both the Orange and Blue.

    So the Emerald Isle is green, not grey and certainly not blue.

    Second of all, Irish Gaelic has three different words for green, blue and grey. The dividing lines may be somewhat different than in English but it’s not like the Irish are blue-green color-blind.

    green grass- féar glas
    blue sky – spéir ghorm
    grey hair – gruaig liath

    green eyes – súile glas
    blue eyes – súile gorma
    grey eyes – súile liath

    And third of all, just because “there’s no word” for a color doesn’t mean it’s not perceived. English has a word for pink but no words for light blue or light green. What conclusion can be drawn from that?

  3. Stu Clayton says:

    The required words are “light blue” and “light green”. No conclusion re perceptual integrity of the population can be drawn from that either.

  4. Please don’t be obtuse. English has a single word for pink which is so firmly entrenched that “light red” used in an ordinary context would be virtually unintelligible, but no single words for the analogous colors light blue and light green. No conclusions about the perception of these colors or about their emotional effects can be drawn from this fact.

    Similarly, even if Irish Gaelic did not have three different single words for green, blue and grey, and instead subsumed them into one word – just as English subsumes baby blue and navy blue into one word – that fact would tell us nothing about the perception or emotional effect of those colors. it would just mean that Irish Gaelic required compounds for these colors instead of single words.

  5. Some pics of Mary Kuper’s work.

  6. Pink isn’t another word for light red. There’s pale pink and dark pink, so that would be ‘pale light-red’ & ‘dark light-red’.

    There seem to be more one-word names for light(ish) blue: azure, turquoise, cyan, for example, than for light green, which maybe only has adjectives like chartreuse, pale- or mint.

    According to some sources I googled, the authentic colour of Ireland isn’t emerald but shamrock green. I’d be hard pressed to mix either one, which is where the numbering systems come in useful, but even they aren’t perfect. I think we’ve discussed Yves Klein and his blue elsewhere, possibly with the wine-dark sea.

  7. David Marjanović says:

    English has a single word for pink which is so firmly entrenched that “light red” used in an ordinary context would be virtually unintelligible

    I’m surprised you equate these. In German, hellrot “light/bright red” is a pretty common word, meaning not pink at all but bright hues a bit closer to orange. Likewise, dunkelrot “dark red” is common and applied to dark shades that may approach but don’t qualify for “purple”.

    In short, pink isn’t considered light red but pastel red…

    There seem to be more one-word names for light(ish) blue: azure, turquoise, cyan, for example, than for light green, which maybe only has adjectives like chartreuse, pale- or mint.

    I’m also surprised you equate turquoise and cyan with light blue! As pink is what you get when you mix red and white, turquoise and cyan (and teal) are what you get when you mix (lighter or darker) green and blue.

    Azure I thought was a shiny but rather dark blue, like water on postcards or the Italian national football team (gli Azzurri).

  8. J.W. Brewer says:

    Mary Kuper’s mother, Hilda (Beemers) Kuper (1911-1992) sounds to have been an interesting lady but it strikes my ear (but maybe not the ears of others, which is why I raise the point) as weirdly anachronistic to refer to her as “Zimbabwean.” She was born in the colony of Southern Rhodesia and moved to South Africa in her teens. By the time “Zimbabwe” first arose in the early ’60’s as a potential alternative toponym for Southern Rhodesia favored by those wishing certain political changes, she was approaching 50 and in the process of relocating from South Africa to Los Angeles. From 1970 on she was a citizen of Swaziland (with whose royal family she had apparently ingratiated herself decades earlier when doing her Ph.D. fieldwork).

  9. English cannot be said to have a special word for the colour pink because pinks are flowers.

    The ugliest English colour-word is puce — said to be the color of bloodstains on linen or bedsheets from a flea’s droppings, or after a flea has been crushed, according to Wikipedia.

  10. As pink is what you get when you mix red and white…

    I suppose it depends on whether you’re speaking as a scientist or an artist. What colour you see depends on the colours it’s next to (there are well-known optical illusions that show it but Josef Albers was the great modernist exponent first at the Bauhaus and then after the War, at Yale). Another painter, Walter Sickert is notorious for using Indian Red as his brightest red. It’s an awful, pervasive oil colour that we were issued free in art school and never used because one tiny drop gets all over everything.

    Azure I thought was a shiny but rather dark blue
    I’m sure Homer (the original one) would agree. Turquoise, I’ve never thought of as being especially dark. It partly depends again on the value (darkness) of the colours around it and also on where you are in the world. A blue sky in England is not the same as a blue sky in Australia, where the blue gets so deep and dark.

    So many links. Oh dear.

  11. Oh dear. I have stepped on my own comment. My point is that “Emerald Isle,” far from meaning green or blue or maybe grey, originates in an English-language political polemic that uses color terms metaphorically – the green of an independent Ireland, the poet proclaims, will prevail over the schism of orange (Protestant) and blue (Catholic) factions under the thumb of the British. Kuper’s misunderstanding is possible only from a person who is ignorant of Irish history and language.

    Mary Kuper may be a good illustrator but she’s no authority on words. Here, for example, she tells us that the word vogue originates from “the German verb ‘voguer.'” http://marykuper.com/word-origins/urj83nmayy9uac6moxbifvki2xnlah

    And here

  12. Gautama Buddha – white Buddhist Nepali
    Jesus Christ – white Christian Palestinian
    prophet Mohammad – white Muslim Saudi

  13. it strikes my ear (but maybe not the ears of others, which is why I raise the point) as weirdly anachronistic to refer to her as “Zimbabwean.”

    No, I quite agree.

    Mary Kuper may be a good illustrator but she’s no authority on words.

    Well, yeah. I think hardly anybody is an authority on words aside from lexicographers and maybe some linguists. People do love yakking about things they don’t know much about.

  14. I’ve never been clear on exactly what shades of the color English-speakers call “blue” the Russian words sinii and goluboy refer to. But if you describe someone’s eyes as siniye glaza, it sounds ridiculous to native speakers. Blue eyes are golubye glaza. I think the sky can be goluboye nebo. The sea, I would have thought, would be goluboye mor’e, but there is a famous aria from Rimskii-Korsakov’s opera Sadko Sinee mor’e.

    Come to think of it, as a native speaker of English, I really don’t have a clear idea of exactly what shade of blue azure is, except that it generally refers to the sky, which can range from what I would call deep blue to a lighter blue depending on atmospheric factors and the time of day, cool in the early morning, warmer towards sunset.

    I suspect that many color words in various languages that are difficult to pin down don’t refer to a precise shade that can be objectively determined, but rather are associated with specific nouns.

  15. In most languages, ‘cyan’ is not a basic color term and it phenomenologically appears as a greenish vibrant hue of blue to most English speakers. Reasons for why cyan is not linguistically acknowledged as a basic color term can be found in the frequent lack of distinction between blue and green in many languages.

    this spectral color corresponds (but not fully) to Russian term goluboi.

  16. marie-lucie says:

    blue/grey/green

    Most colours are originally names for some natural things. This particular combination seems very odd if we think of three separate colours, typically bright blue and bright green together with the duller grey, but there is one thing in nature that goes “seamlessly” through this combination of colours depending on the weather: the sea, which in Ireland is not the bright blue of the Mediterranean, and of course not the bright green of fresh grass. That the same word is used for eye colours as for the sea is not surprising: these are the pale colours of light eyes, which again are not bright, and sometimes difficult to identify.

    In the same context I remember reading of a language (perhaps Irish too) with a colour term which includes brown and grey: this must be the colour(s) of much tree bark.

  17. “Most colours are originally names for some natural things.”

    I think this is going to be true in most languages other than the basic few color words, however the color wheel is divided. Then there will be a lot derived from fruits or flowers such as oranges or roses. Then there may be some that are loanwords, or that are mostly literary – “azure” feels this way to me – or that are the fashion industry or similarly restricted fields. Who else is going to care whether something is magenta versus crimson?

    In Chinese most color words are written with the silk radical – 红,紫, etc. – which suggests they were associated with dying fabric. Not all; 丹 means cinnabar and cinnabar color, 赤 means red, scarlet, naked (I guess the connection is the way your cheeks glow in the cold.)

  18. John Woldemar Cowan says:

    Who else is going to care whether something is magenta versus crimson?

    Women, definitely. Gale is always freshly astounded by my ignorance of color terms, and even more by my chronic inability to tell what goes with what and what clashes with what.

  19. I’m not a woman, but magenta and crimson are far enough apart on the spectrum that I’m surprised anyone would think the distinction is insignificant.

  20. Trond Engen says:

    Women, definitely.

    I’m married to someone who speaks NCS fluently and claims to have perfect hue* in the non-yellow part of the spectrum.

    *) or whatever term can be crafted as an equivalent of pitch.

  21. marie-lucie says:

    Colour perception seems to be one area in which there are statistical differences between men and women. Colour blindness is much more prevalent among men, and while most humans can perceive the three primary colours thanks to three types of cells in their eyes, it seems that some women have a fourth type, which enables them to perceive a mix of different colours where men and most women see a single colour. On the other hand, there are people of both sexes whose colour perception is weak: in my opinion, many people who choose very bright, often clashing colours, or tints (especially reds) which are close to each other but also clash, do not necessarily suffer from “bad taste” but from weak colour perception, so colours that are not very bright are too drab for their to recognize them. On the other hand, people whose job is to design and match colours, whether for house paint or textiles, need to have a heightened sense of colour in order to perceive minute differences.

    In modern Western countries, colours play a much larger role in women’s clothing than in men’s clothing, and men are also socially conditioned not to pay much attention to the colours of their clothing and to favour the drabber colours. But art works from a few centuries ago, especially portraits of royals and other prominent persons, show that men’s clothing (for those who could afford to follow fashion) were at least as colourful as women’s clothing. The Protestant Reformation, and later the Victorian age, led to men wearing mostly black clothes, with white for the washable garments or parts of them (collars, cuffs, etc), while the women were allowed much greater choice in colours, especially for court appearances and other special occasions. Outside of the Western world, many traditional clothes for men are also very colourful, for instance in India, Indonesia and parts of Africa.

  22. Stu Clayton says:

    Trond: What’s so challenging about that other part of the spectrum ? Even I can distinguish mellow and screechy yellows (quietschgelb)

  23. Colour perception seems to be one area in which there are statistical differences between men and women. Colour blindness is much more prevalent among men, and while most humans can perceive the three primary colours thanks to three types of cells in their eyes, it seems that some women have a fourth type, which enables them to perceive a mix of different colours where men and most women see a single colour.

    Fascinating, I had no idea!

  24. David Marjanović says:

    Magenta is rather bright reddish purple, crimson is dark red that is not purple. But then, I know magenta (and cyan) only from CMYK colors, so it’s unusually narrowly defined, and I don’t use it otherwise…

    I suppose it depends on whether you’re speaking as a scientist or an artist.

    Here I’m speaking as a 6-year-old child.

    Turquoise, I’ve never thought of as being especially dark.

    Me neither…?

  25. David Marjanović says:

    Most placental mammals are red/green-blind, having a version of rhodopsin that has an absorption maximum in the blue/ultraviolet part of the spectrum and one that has an absorption maximum in the yellow part. The gene for that one is on the X chromosome. In monkeys generally, two versions of it occur, one (slightly mutated) with a red-shifted absorption maximum, so if you have two X chromosomes, you can have both. In Old World monkeys and apes, both versions are generally on the same X chromosome, so having one is usually enough.

    That’s why red/green-blind men are much more common than red/green-blind women.

    In humans, a third version occurs, with an absorption maximum in the orange part. One woman has been identified who has all three.

  26. John Woldemar Cowan says:

    My color discrimination is every bit as good as Gale’s, so that’s not what it’s about. It’s true that there are many color names I don’t know, and I apply the names I do know more broadly than she does. I will call a tan pair of pants brown, although I know what the denotation of tan is.

    What is more mysterious is the lack of “clash sense”. It has gotten to the point where Gale picks out a shirt/pants combination for me to wear, because I can’t be trusted, if I choose them myself, not to wear something “absolutely awful” together. The whole idea of “clashing colors” is just incomprehensible to me.

  27. Trond Engen says:

    What’s so challenging about that other part of the spectrum ? Even I can distinguish mellow and screechy yellows (quietschgelb)

    She can look at a wall or a window sill or whatever and know the NCS code with great certainty, but not in (roughly) the yellow part of the spectrum. It’s probably just because she like those colours less.

  28. @Bill W.; “But if you describe someone’s eyes as siniye glaza, it sounds ridiculous to native speakers.”

    No, it doesn’t. Sinie glaza are deep blue eyes and golubye glaza are light-blue eyes. Sinee more is a fixed expression. Goluboe more sounds odd.

  29. David Marjanović says:

    Quietschen is “squee” here, not “screech”.

    The whole idea of “clashing colors” is just incomprehensible to me.

    You find nothing ugly about pink and orange together?

  30. marie-lucie says:

    DM: You find nothing ugly about pink and orange together?

    Quite a few colour combinations look good or bad together depending on the exact shades they are. I would say that most pink+orange combinations look terrible, especially the harsher tones of each, but a few of them, the softer tones, can look very nice. Sometimes it’s a matter of relative area: narrow stripes of a harsh colour against a background of a softer colour can look good, while the reverse would not. Such things are discussed and shown in detail in books on colour for artists and designers.

  31. January First-of-May says:

    Magenta is rather bright reddish purple, crimson is dark red that is not purple.

    Switch “dark” and “rather bright” for my own impression of what those words meant. But I’m not a native English speaker, and I’d be hard-pressed to tell you the Russian translation of “magenta”.

    (I do happen to know the Russian translation of “crimson” – алый.)

  32. Which always makes me think of Алые паруса.

  33. marie-lucie says:

    JWC: Gale picks out a shirt/pants combination for me to wear, because I can’t be trusted, if I choose them myself, not to wear something “absolutely awful” together.

    Typical couple cooperation! Precisely because of the often different colour sense in men and women.

  34. > pink+orange combinations look terrible, especially the harsher tones of each, but a few of them, the softer tones, can look very nice.

    They can look peachy!

    I do believe that people’s ability to distinguish colors can depend on what distinctions the language makes. Recently I wondered why my son’s pack of crayons had two red crayons. One of them turned out to be “pink”. I’ve seen other “pink”s that I would classify as purple. I think I equate “pink” with Danish “lyserød” (light red), which tends to be much lighter. (Maybe this is called “baby pink”?)

    On the pic heading the linked article, I was wondering what language “IHOLA” was, when I realized it was “¡hola!” without the ending bang.

  35. For a while I was wondering whether I somehow skipped that kindergarten class when they teach children the names of the colors.

    But then my girlfriend told me that there is no such class – everyone is supposed to know the right colors already by kindergarten.

    I don’t know why. I suspect plenty of people don’t.

  36. Алый is more scarlet than crimson to me. It’s bright and rich but not particularly deep, without a purple tinge. Still, there’s no definite one to one correspondence here.

    I’m pretty sure Alexander Grin’s title image is descended from the blutrot sails in Senta’s ballad in Der fliegende Holländer.

  37. Wikipedia says pink is not a “spectral colour”. It’s a mixture of red and white. Now that colour has gone “scientific” it’s even harder to understand.

  38. David Marjanović says:

    I do believe that people’s ability to distinguish colors can depend on what distinctions the language makes.

    Oh yes.

    “The way Himba language organizes colors differently, compared to western languages, actually impacts the way they see. Take a look at the image below, and see how fast you can pick out the square that’s a different shade of green:”

    Wikipedia says pink is not a “spectral colour”. It’s a mixture of red and white. Now that colour has gone “scientific” it’s even harder to understand.

    In this case, though, “now” is Newton’s Opticks.

  39. it strikes my ear (but maybe not the ears of others, which is why I raise the point) as weirdly anachronistic to refer to her as “Zimbabwean.”

    Unless she died before Rhodesia became Zimbabwe, it’s not anachronistic at all.
    In the same way, you don’t hear of too many Soviet people these days even if they were born before 1991.

  40. I have a theory that there must have been an alphabet in colored letters strung in first grade above the blackboard, because of my continuing conviction that ‘A’ is red, ‘B’ is blue, ‘C’ is yellow, and so on. As letters draggle to the end, my memory fades, but I’m sure that the blue of ‘B’ was very different from the blue of ‘W,’ All this could have led to an early education in color names, but it didn’t.

  41. marie-lucie says:

    everyone is supposed to know the right colors already by kindergarten.

    Children with normal vision will know them, but others will have trouble.

    The late Oliver Saks, who did not have quite normal vision and was interested in others like him, made a short movie or video about it. At one point a group of people who could not see colours (but knew the colour words) were filmed during a meal and asked what they thought were the colours of the foods they were eating. Their choices were really weird!

    But there are now special glasses that allow people without colour vision to see colours. There are videos of such people putting on the glasses and totally amazed at what they now see, that normal seeing people take for granted.

    coloured letters

    Rimbaud wrote a poem in which he describes the colours of vowel letters (whether the colours apply to the letters or their sounds is not clear). There is a name (which I don’t remember) for this condition, according to which more than one sense is involved in a perception for which most people use only one.

  42. Would that be ‘synesthesia’?

    Where can I get a pair of those glasses!

  43. Women in my family like to collect horror stories of me confusing colors.

    I am known to have confused brown with yellow and green with pink, for example. In 9 out of 10 cases, I somehow give wrong answers to questions like “what color is this sweater”.

    Doctor says there is nothing wrong with my color vision – I just wasn’t taught color names properly (or rather hues and boundaries between various colors).

    I still can tell red light from green…

  44. marie-lucie says:

    Bathrobe: You are right: synesthesia is the word I was looking for.

    As for the glasses, I have only seen a couple of short videos on the internet, but nothing specific. But they must be available: for instance, in one video a colourblind man was getting a pair from his children as a birthday present. But I have no idea of whether they would apply in every case. Worth discussing with an ophthalmologist.

  45. I have known three people who had synesthesia, and all three (with little in common otherwise) had something in common: they were excellent spellers. As one of them told me, after seeing a word properly spelled for the first time it was quite impossible to misspell it: the word had a “color scheme” rigidly associated with it in their mind, which even a single extra/missing/wrong letter would ruin.

  46. George Grady says:

    Bathrobe: Where can I get a pair of those glasses!

    Look at enchroma.com. They’re pretty expensive, though, and they apparently don’t work for everybody.

  47. @SFReader: The errors you describe sound like classic sex-linked red-green colorblindness, which about one in ten Caucasian men have. Maybe your doctor is right, and that’s not it, but the problems you have sound just like mine, so I’m suspicious.

  48. John,
    “Who else is going to care whether something is magenta versus crimson?
    Women, definitely.”

    Well, i said “…or that are the fashion industry or similarly restricted fields. Who else is going to care whether something is magenta versus crimson? ” Fashion.

    “My color discrimination is every bit as good as Gale’s, so that’s not what it’s about.”

    So this looks more like a cultural norm operating than anything biological, although M-L is right though about the distribution of color perception between genders, with the usual caveats. Apparently gay men tend to test out on the female side of that spectrum but the fashion and design results can be quite different. You can generally tell when a man has been dressed by his wife. It’s a form of gaydar.

    Himba – apparently the system in Irish is similar, with a bright/drab distinction around the color wheel.

  49. David Marjanović says:

    classic sex-linked red-green colorblindness, which about one in ten Caucasian men have

    One in ten!?!

    …Turns out, that’s more or less right: “Red-green color blindness affects up to 8% of males and 0.5% of females of Northern European descent.” Also in that Wikipedia article: a test image that lets you check immediately if you’re red/green-blind (provided your screen isn’t too far off).

  50. That’s scary.

    I failed the test, count me officially red-green color-blind now.

    Leaving this thread since I am obviously not qualified to discuss colors in any language

  51. marie-lucie says:

    SFR, Stay! You can discuss language in any colour ink!

  52. John Woldemar Cowan says:

    I had a discussion, or rather “discussion”, with Gale last night about whether the shirt I’m wearing this morning was various shades of green (my view) or gray and yellow (hers). It’s a plaid, and the colors are rather muted, we agree on that. Note that the Ishihara test shown at the WP link is mostly in pastels, and that’s the kind of red and green that color-blind people have trouble with. Very very few are unable to discriminate traffic-light colors, for example (except the tiny minority with no cones in their eyes at allses).

    But what continues to interest me more is the question of pink and orange, which seem to me to be perfectly fine in juxtaposition, as do all other color combinations. There was once a florist in our neighborhood who had this view, or perception, or whatever it is: he was all for mixing any combination of flower colors. He provided the flowers for our wedding, and later went out of business, but probably not because of either our wedding or clash insensibility.

    I think what I may be deficient in is not color perception but the sense of disgust.

  53. Speaking of plaids, my wife can’t stand it when I wear two different patterns, but I don’t notice it until she points it out. (We also have the standard gendered difference in ability to name colors.)

  54. “But what continues to interest me more is the question of pink and orange, which seem to be perfectly fine in juxtaposition, as do all other color combinations.”

    I don’t think it was ever really anything other than a taboo. The problem with it is that combination is not uncommon in nature and it looks great. Getting the tones to align is the key.

  55. Oooh, bad typo: for “seem to be” read “seem to me” or “seem to me to be”. Please fix.

  56. Done.

  57. David Marjanović says:

    I failed the test, count me officially red-green color-blind now.

    I’m not surprised. Brown and yellow transition smoothly and without further intermediates, unless you have a word for buff; but any contact zone between green and pink would have to be… brown.

    (Or buff again, I guess.)

    Very very few are unable to discriminate traffic-light colors, for example

    Green traffic lights, except the oldest ones, are in fact noticeably bluish precisely so that red/green-blind people can tell they’re not red or yellow (without having to rely on the light’s position).

  58. Regarding Bloix’s comments on Irish:-
    “Second of all, Irish Gaelic has three different words for green, blue and grey. The dividing lines may be somewhat different than in English but it’s not like the Irish are blue-green color-blind.

    green grass- féar glas
    blue sky – spéir ghorm
    grey hair – gruaig liath”

    Glas can also mean grey.
    Eg.
    spéir ghorm – blue sky
    spéir ghlas – grey sky (from Ó Dónaill’s Foclóir Gailge-Béarla)

  59. Apparently no one told Turner (The Fighting Temeraire), Velazquez (Infanta; Philip IV), Monet (London, Houses of Parliament), Matisse (Palmette 1947) or Rothko (White Center, 1950) not to put pink & orange together.

  60. marie-lucie says:

    AJP: There are pinks, there are oranges, some of their shades look terrible together, others look good. Those artists had a great sense of colour and knew what shades they could put together, but the average person or even t-shirt designer is not an artist and benefits from a following a few safe rules.

  61. About the only rule I have mastered is “Don’t mix sky colors (blue, red, yellow) with earth colors (green, brown)”. This seems to be fairly safe, although there are earth/sky mixtures that are fine.

  62. m-l & jc, Although it’s important, I don’t think it’s so much a question of finding the exact shades (and anyway, they vary according to the light and by being reproduced in photos) or sky- vs earth-tones as much as observing what’s surrounding the pink & orange. I mean both absolutely (ie which colours) and stylistically (the associations and other memory baggage we carry around). For example, I personally have a hard time with this combo of orange & yellow when it’s expressed on 1960s kitchenware, nowadays as nostalgia for young trendies, but I see something quite different when similar shades represent the MCC (“a well-known cricket club, m’lud”) and I even manage to quite like it when Amazon is flogging a Rothko print.

  63. I personally have a hard time with this combo of orange & yellow when it’s expressed on 1960s kitchenware

    That brings back horrible memories.

  64. marie-lucie says:

    I like the Rothko (soft colours, blurred edges), not so much the cricket tie ( too harsh), but the problem with the kitchenware (hideous) is not so much the orange and yellow as the brown (I have seen this pattern, but not at home, only in the US).

  65. Lars (the original one) says:

    I agree with m-l (as usual) — it’s not the hues that clash, it’s the values.

  66. David Marjanović says:

    What makes the kitchenware hideous to me is not the orange, the yellow or the brown – it’s the fake-cubist shape of the flowers.

    The cricket bowtie works because it’s small. A full-sized tie would be a big exclamation mark.

  67. I remain ignorant, indeed bewildered.

  68. The cricket bowtie works because it’s small. A full-sized tie would be a big exclamation mark.

    Oh, it’s not just bow ties. The man with bad teeth who’s in the foreground is a cricketing journalist called Henry Blofeld who claims his father was at Eton with Ian Fleming and was therefore the original for James Bond’s villain name, Ernst Blofeld.

  69. That is a hideous image in several ways.

  70. I’ll say. Colour blindness doesn’t cover the half of it.

  71. marie-lucie says:

    There are striking colour combinations which look all right on a flag (meant to be visible at a distance) or even a tie (which has a very limited area) but should never be transferred exactly to garments. The cricket tie is bright but all right for the occasion, but the red and gold striped jacket is way too much. In England years ago I remember my surprise at seeing groups of young boys, most likely from private schools, each group wearing identical striped jackets in unusual (to say the least) colour combinations, like green and purple. This seems peculiarly English (or perhaps British).

  72. There are striking colour combinations which look all right on a flag

    If I saw a jacket like the one behind Henry Blofeld, I’d assume the wearer was a Catalan nationalist.

  73. marie-lucie says:

    I have seen many photos of Catalan demonstrations involving the Catalan flag, but never a jacket apparently made from a Catalan flag. A British supporter of Catalunya perhaps?

  74. David Marjanović says:

    That is a hideous image in several ways.

    One of them is that the blue jacket clashes rather loudly with the yellow & orange…

  75. In general, flags follow the rules of heraldry, of which the most fundamental divides colors into two groups, the metals (yellow and white, called or and argent in the English tradition) and all the rest, and forbids a metal from appearing adjacent to a metal and a non-metal from appearing adjacent to a non-metal. I would blazon that tie “bendy sinister or and tenné”, which is a perfectly plausible arms. (Sinister means that the stripes run down from the wearer’s left (the viewer’s right), the less usual direction; the notion that it has anything to do with illegitimacy is historically absurd.) The jacket, however, is “paly or and gules”, whereas the hatband is “barry or and gules”, referring to vertical and horizontal stripes respectively (gules being the heraldic word for ‘red’).

    I cannot find that anyone has ever borne the tie colors as arms, tenné being a rare color in any case. But the flag of Bhutan is the very similar “per bend sinister or and tenné, a dragon statant bendways sinister argent”, the difference being that there are only two stripes (that is, the field is divided diagonally). And, of course, the dragon. Never a good thing to leave out the dragon. The Catalan flag is “argent four bars gules”, the old arms of the Kingdom of Aragon; “barry” only applies when the total number of stripes is even or indeterminate, whereas the Catalan flag has nine.

    As for Eton College, its arms were originally “sable three lily-flowers argent”, but this now occupies only the base of the shield: the fess (top third) is now divided between “azure a fleur-de-lys or” on the dexter (viewer’s left) side and “gules a lion passant guardant or” on the sinister (viewer’s right) side, for France and England respectively. “Guardant” is a variant spelling of “gardant” traditional in heraldry: the lion is looking toward the viewer.

  76. In general, flags follow the rules of heraldry, of which the most fundamental divides colors into two groups, the metals (yellow and white, called or and argent in the English tradition) and all the rest, and forbids a metal from appearing adjacent to a metal and a non-metal from appearing adjacent to a non-metal. I would blazon that tie “bendy sinister or and tenné”, which is a perfectly plausible arms. (Sinister means that the stripes run down from the wearer’s left (the viewer’s right), the less usual direction; the notion that it has anything to do with illegitimacy is historically absurd.) The jacket, however, is “paly or and gules”, whereas the hatband is “barry or and gules”, referring to vertical and horizontal stripes respectively (gules being the heraldic word for ‘red’).

    I cannot find that anyone has ever borne any of these arms, tenné being a rare color in any case. But the flag of Bhutan is the very similar “per bend sinister or and tenné, a dragon statant bendways sinister argent”, the difference being that there are only two stripes (that is, the field is divided diagonally). And, of course, the dragon. Never a good thing to leave out the dragon. The Catalan flag is “argent four bars gules”, the old arms of the Kingdom of Aragon; “barry” only applies when the total number of stripes is even or indeterminate, whereas the Catalan flag has nine.

    As for Eton College, its arms were originally “sable three lily-flowers argent”, but this now occupies only the base of the shield: the fess (top third) is now divided between “azure a fleur-de-lys or” on the dexter (viewer’s left) side and “gules a lion passant guardant or” on the sinister (viewer’s right) side, for France and England respectively. “Guardant” is a variant spelling of “gardant” traditional in heraldry: the lion is looking toward the viewer.

  77. David Marjanović says:

    “Guardant” is a variant spelling of “gardant” traditional in heraldry

    It’s the older spelling (long obsolete in French) and even older pronunciation.

  78. marie-lucie says:

    David M; the blue jacket clashes rather loudly with the yellow & orange…

    I think British taste is more concerned with symbolism than with aesthetics.

    JC: Wow! Your wide expertise never ceases to amaze.

    Most of the heraldic vocabulary is otherwise obsolete even in French.

    English gules ‘red’ is from gueules ‘maws’, mouths of carnivorous animals. In the heraldic context it is pronounced with the vowel of peu, while the still standard gueule[s] (same meaning, different context, e.g. for dogs, wolves etc) has the vowel of seul(es). This word is also a derogatory slang word for ‘(human) mouth’.

    Guardant : the root of this word is Germanic, corresponding to English ward. It occurs (as gard-) in two French verbs: garder ‘to keep, to guard’ and regarder ‘to look (at)’. In this case the re- prefix does not indicate repetition but intensity. not just to look around (as in guardant) but to look intently, fixedly at someone or something.

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