Data interpreter/designer Terrence Fradet created this lovely interpretation of colors through the filter of language. At the Fathom Information Design site, he has a more expansive history on color and language, but this is a short version.

Some languages explain the entire color spectrum in two or three words–eschewing everything except maybe “light” or “dark”–while others might classify more than 60 relatively obscure colors. The World Color Survey is a global database of color names and interpretations, and Fradet mined this data for his infographic. The results are grouped by geographic area and show the most-used words nearest to the center, reaching out to the most obscure variations at the end.

Of course one wishes there were more languages — maybe even a couple of familiar ones for comparison — but man, what a gorgeous thing. Click on the image to see it up close, hit the hyphen key to pull back.


  1. I remember in grade school, some 40 years ago, seeing a film about people gathering data on this. Made no sense at the time, but I held it in my mind as a kind of mystery. Heard of the research since, and now this. Thanks.

  2. In my version of Safari it shows up as entirely black; very satirical.

  3. Aha, there it is. It looks like a pretty version of those Sun God thingies from the Incas (or was it the Aztecs?).

  4. Guy Deutcher, author of the hands-down best popular-linguistics book ever, The Unfolding of Language, later wrote a terrific book about this subject – Through the Language Glass.

  5. John Emerson says

    The eskimos have no words for any color other than white.

  6. Trond Engen says

    But they have 167 words for white.

  7. What’s the eskimo word for tartan?

  8. Trond Engen says

    Oh, right! 168.

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