Puce and taupe sound more colorful than flea and mole

In a recent post, I discussed how speakers of different languages see color differently. Continuing with the theme of color, I thought that it might be interesting to explore how certain colors obtained their names.

For instance, turquoise is derived from a French word for "Turkish," as the bluish stone for which the color is name was known in French as "la pierre turquoise" (the Turkish stone). Logically, such colors as topaz, sapphire, jade, amber, ebony, and emerald also come from their respective stones, just as gold and silver come from precious metals.

The colors ultramarine and aquamarine refer, not surprisingly, to the sea, as well as to stones. Aquamarine originally referred to the color of a type of stone that came from the Mediterranean region and suggested the color of that sea, whereas ultramarine was used to designate the color of a stone (lapis lazuli, imported from Asia), that originated across the sea ("ultra" in this sense meaning "beyond" and not "excessive").

Pink was named for a flower known as a "pink," although the etymology of the word gets a bit murky, as the original word leading, by way of Dutch, to the name of the flower may have meant "small" or "hole." Violet and rose have similar floral origins.

A number of color names come from fabrics. These include ecru and beige from French, as well as "scarlet," from Persian. Colors have also been named for dyes or dye-producing plants. Purple comes from Greek via Latin. Crimson comes to English through Old Spanish, Arabic, and Sanskrit, while indigo, meaning "the Indian dye," comes from Portuguese. Magenta was taken in the 19th-century from one of Garibaldi's then-sensational Italian victories and used to market a type of photographic dye.

Some colors have surprisingly bizarre origins. Puce, originally a French word, means "flea-colored." Taupe, also French, refers to the color of a mole (the animal, not the skin blemish). Perhaps more appetizingly, maroon comes from a French word for a type of chestnut. Teal, an English word with Old English roots, is named for a color pattern found on a type of river duck, also known as a teal.

For an interesting discussion on many of these colors as well as observations on how certain color names, such as khaki and auburn, have shifted to denote different colors over time, please visit Word Wide Words.

(Posted by language fan and friend Silas McCracken.)


Taking a staycation

I'm going to take a staycation by enjoying a summer break in Chicago. I think that's a great word to express staying at home to vacation. And apparently it's a 21st century word, according to a travel article:

A Nexis search reveals that the first published use of staycation (as far as Nexis knows) was in the Myrtle Beach Sun-News on July 11, 2003. In a story entitled "Sports World Doesn't Stop for Vacation," Terry Massey uses the term to describe nine vacation days spent at home in Myrtle beach watching sports on television and preparing a nursery for a new baby.

I just realized that I should contact Mr. Massey to find out if he created that word, and what he thinks of it. So stay tuned--I'll probably do an update if I can get a hold of him (and if I'm not too lazy to do it :D)


I highly recommend this book

Right now I'm reading a few books, one of which is a language book that was sent to me (which I haven't finished yet), but I just finished an excellent book about the rise and fall of the company that produced Veggie Tales, and the creator's personal journey as he discovered that he was in over his head and ended up failing--his company went into bankruptcy and he had to sell the whole thing off to pay off a lawsuit. Just a total nightmare, but he admits that he was to blame for the company's demise.

But in the larger picture, he's not a failure, because he was able to create another company and continue making a living from being creative. But it's really a good lesson on a lot of levels about what it's like to go for something so big, you either can't handle it or your ego gets in the way, or both.

You can read an excerpt at his site, which seems to me like it was originally a blog post that became a book. But the post is long enough to get a pretty good idea of what happened to his company.

I also liked the book because it was well-written and conversational. Honestly, I don't like books that seem self conscious or too rigid. But this one flowed and the information, advice, and insight were worth it.

btw--I only saw one episode of Veggie Tales, and that's only because I was reading this book.


More people hate working at home

Almost four years ago, I did a post about working at home. I'd been working at home for a while before I did that post, but I was really starting to hate it. I liked working independently and still do, even though my primary work isn't at home, but I hated waking up and being alone in my place and never hearing other people talk, unless I went to a cafe, where I felt alone anyway, since it was just a place full of individuals not interacting with me.

And I'm not one of those people who finds online interaction fulfilling--it can actually be creepy and very dissatisfying because people are anonymous and the online scene is superficial. There seem to be a lot of people online who make "friends" at sites or interact a lot online with their real-life friends, who they barely see offline. So they use social apps, IM, etc., to connect, but I've realized that nothing beats seeing someone in person or even talking with them on the phone.

When I was primarily working at home, I did a search online to see if anyone else out there didn't like working at home, but it was hard to find articles or blogs that talked about it. So I started to think I was even more alone, and wondered if I was weak for not really liking the isolation or such byproducts of a more technological world.

Well I did another search online today, and now I see more posts about not liking working at home, including a good one by a software developer who bluntly says that he "absolutely hate[s] working from home" and "working from home permanently is like being locked away in solitary confinement."

I'm surprised his employer doesn't mind him writing about it, but apparently they don't care. I'm glad he's honest about it, and I like how his post is written. I've found a lot of other blogs and articles online, but I think he expresses himself well.


Download the book

Here's a preview of the anthology I put together. Now you can download it for half the price of the print version available at Amazon. It features various writers, including bloggers--check out the preview below to see the writers' bios.

Down the Block


Foot Fingers and Other Body Part Naming Curiosities

In my last post, I gave a brief outline about how different languages classify colors differently. It may come as some surprise that different languages may also provide different classifications of another subject that we may take for granted: body parts.

Slavic languages, for instance, often do not distinguish between arm/hand or leg/foot. In Russian, "ruka" may mean a hand or an arm, while "noga" may refer to a leg or a foot. Similarly, Amharic also considers the leg and foot to be part of the same entity. Lavukaleve, spoken in the Solomon Islands in the Pacific, features the same word for arm, leg, and hand.

Jahai, spoken in the Malay Peninsula in Southeast Asia, has a particularly interesting division of body parts, with different lexical terms for upper arm, lower arm, and hand, but supposedly no specific word for mouth!

While English, German, and Norwegian consider fingers and toes to be entirely separate body parts, other languages, such as Spanish, Portuguese, Japanese, and Russian, label toes as simply "foot fingers." In French, either option is possible, with "orteil" (a word for toe that is separate from "doigt," used for finger) being more formal and literary and "doigt de pied" ("foot finger") being used often in oral language.

Conversely, while English and German refer to a cheekbone as being the "bone of a cheek," in a number of Romance languages, such as French, Spanish, and Italian, the word for cheekbone has nothing to do with the word for cheek. For instance, in French, a cheek is a "joue," while a cheekbone is a "pommette."

(Posted by language fan and friend Silas McCracken.)


Analog TV signing off

On Friday, a bunch of TV stations around the US had to turn off their analog switches because the nation is becoming digital. Here's an interesting signoff: they got the original engineer, the guy who switched the TV station on when it was just starting out in the late 1940's, to come back to turn the station off (in its analog form, of course). He's 99, so it's quite a historical moment.

Also--I found a site with images of TV's from the 1940's.


Cigar party

Here's some entertaining text from a real invitation to a party that I'm going to tonight. Note: I'm not a guy, and I don't smoke cigars, but the last time I went, I had a great time. It's just that if you see the text, you'd think it's just a guy thing (which it mostly is--I think I was one of only a few females last time). I've removed various words from the invitation to just feature the interesting highlights below, but I haven't included any ellipses to represent the missing words (...) because it'd look weird.

Tonight's the night, boys!!! Final reminder to get your butt over to Jimmy P's joint for the biggest and best Cigar Party yet!! We've got cigars and booze up the ying yang! We had about 110 guys in October, smokin', eatin', drinkin', golfin', tellin' jokes and carousing with the guys and all had a great time! We're doin' it again tonight!!

Note how they mistakenly say "ying" instead of "yin". Also note how often they omitted the "g" from those various verbs.

So I'll be leaving now, and expect to smell like smoke when I get back because in addition to all the cigars, they said there will be "fire pits blazing if needed!". I'm sure the party will have the same enthusiasm the invitation did :D


Why English with English subtitles?

This is weird, but useful: in this scene from Kung Fu, there are English subtitles to go along with the English dialogue. So maybe the purpose was to learn English--you can easily read along as they speak.


I almost got published in a newspaper

I've been writing online for a while, but I think writing for print is nifty too. So when someone from the Washington Post contacted me to contribute an opinion piece, I was psyched. They found my blog--I didn't have to approach them, which is cool because we often have to chase after opportunities. In fact, I had no idea that editors from such prestigious newspapers look online for contributors. I'm not going to lie: I still think it's a big deal when someone from the print media is interested in what I have to say (which is why I was happy when Mary Beard noticed my blog).

So I spent a bit of time writing a draft of an essay, and I even turned down some extra radio work to get it to the Post early, in case they wanted me to make changes. But then they told me that they weren't going to do the topic, and I was disappointed. They said that if I had an interesting idea, I should let them know, but for some reason, even though I'm quite opinionated, I can't think of anything that they might be interested in.

Maybe one day it will happen, but until then, I'll continue toiling in obscurity :D


Japanese article about standing at Canon

There's a blog post circulating out there about how Canon is making their employees stand and walk faster at work to increase productivity and employee relationships.

If you want to see the original Japanese article, you can find it at a Japanese IT site.

The title is 本当に「いす」がなかった,キヤノン電子のオフィス (There really are no chairs at the Canon Electronics office).

And here's the introductory paragraph (no time to translate it now, though I might do it after I fulfill my radio duties):



A color by any other name

Those of us who are sighted tend to take the colors we see for granted. The sky (at least on a sunny day) is blue, while the grass (when lush and healthy) is green. Yet these very distinctions are, to some degree, arbitrary, and vary between languages and cultures. It appears that every language has a color scheme with between two (such as Burarra, an aboriginal language spoken in Australia that divides all colors into shades of two colors that very roughly mean "light" and "dark") and twelve basic color terms (with other color terms in each language being variants of these terms), yet each language divides and assigns these colors in its own way.

Celtic languages have definitions of "blue" and "green" that are surprisingly different from those assigned in English. In Middle Irish and Old Irish, "glas" encompassed green, blue, and some shades of gray. In Modern Welsh, "gwyrdd" refers to "green,' while "glas" generally means "blue." However, "glas" can also refer to the color of grass, the color of the sea, and the color of silver, suggesting that, although the distinction between blue and green exists, the dividing point is different between Welsh and English. Increasingly, though, and probably due to the considerable influence of English in the British Isles, Welsh appears to be tending toward the eleven-color color scheme used in English, adopting "llwyd' for gray in addition to "gwyrdd" and "glas."

Other languages, such as Lakota (spoken by the Sioux), represent blue and green as shades of one color, and such languages. Yet some languages outdo English (which, admittedly, has terms such as "indigo" and "azure," but these are often considered to be shades of blue, although indigo is sometimes classified as a separate color in the spectrum) and and make further distinctions between blue and green. Greek, for instance, has six words for varying shades of blue, one word for turquoise, and four words for varying shades of green. Italian has two words for light blue, "azzurro" and "celeste," as opposed to "blu" which means "blue." More significantly, "azzurro" is generally not considered to be a shade of "blu," but an entirely separate color. Some Slavic languages, as well as Romanian, also treat light blue and blue as separate colors. Kazakh has one color ("kök") for natural green objects and another color ("jasâl") for human-made green objects. Interestingly, "kök" also refers to the color of the sky and of the sea. Japanese and Mandarin also have different color boundaries for blue and green.

Similar differing semantic fields are found for other colors. Pink and red are considered to be separate colors in English, yet shades of the same color in Mandarin. A number of African languages see blue and black as shades of the same color, as did Old Norse (and Swedish until the early 20th century).

As we can see from the examples of Welsh and Swedish, color divisions can change in a single language over time. In English, "orange" became established as a separate color as late as in the early-mid 20th century. Prior to this date it was often called "yellow-red" on artists' palettes. "Pink" and "purple" are also examples of descriptive (subordinate shades that have, respectively developed into abstract colors in their own right.

(Posted by language fan and friend Silas McCracken.)