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Interesting Etymologies 14 : Colourful Etymologies / The names for colours

Updated: Nov 20, 2021

"Hello again Word Lovers!"


Red was covered in the PIE again episode but we can take a look at Crimson to start here. Carmesí in modern Spanish, from Cremesinus in Latin,- inus is an indicator that it was adapted by the Romans, originally from an Arabic word Quirmiz. This translates into Slavonic as červená and would therefore explain why the football team Red Star Belgrade is now known as Fudbalski klub Crvena zvezda.


Can be traced back to PIE roots meaning to shine, glow or gleam -ghlei, ghlo or ghel.


Often defined as the colour of the clear sky. In Homer's works the sea is often described as "wine dark" and the sky as the colour of bronze so even using "sky coloured" as a definition of blue is fraught with difficulty.

Frankish blao or other Germanic source from Proto-Germanic blaewaz and the Old English blaw. French and Italian have the word as we can recognise it although Italian also has "azzuri" to mean dark blue and of course blue is "azul" in Spanish. Russian does not have a word for blue (a lot of grey skies in Mother Russia - Ed), they have a word for dark blue "sinii" and sky blue "goluboi". Japanese traffic lights are blue not green due to the distinctions they make regarding colours. Find out more about Japanese words here

There can be some cross over between blue and grey and green as well.


In Old English and Middle English from Germanic gronja, Old Norse graenn and unsurprisingly connected to he word for grass and grow, a PIE root in fact with ghre.

Latin had Viridis which leads to verde, Primavera, Vivere (to grow) Vert, Verdant, Verdure etc.


blakaz in Proto Germanic to mean burned/burnt or dark in general. Old Norse blakkr

Explore the full Interesting Etymologies series archive here


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