Tag Archives: Word

Fascinating Words for Colors (and the Battle of Magenta)

Imagine not having a word for “yellow” or “beige” or “orange.” For many years, English got by with a lot fewer words for color than we have today.

By

Mignon Fogarty,

Grammar Girl

 

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Colors are such fundamental, tangible things that it’s hard to imagine not having names for them, but the number of words for colors varies widely by language and for many, many years, English got by without a lot of the color names we take for granted today.

In nearly all languages, the first colors to get names are black and white.

Black

“Black” comes from very old words that meant “to burn” or “burned.” But the same old words also gave us “blake,” which is a now obscure word that meant pale, pallid, and ashen. In fact, the Oxford English Dictionary says that it is often difficult to tell which of these two colors is meant in Old English texts when the context doesn’t make it clear. And to make it even more complicated, at some point, “black” could also be used to describe something bright, shining, or glittering, perhaps related to the idea that something that is burning is all those things. So it took “black” a while to be limited to what we think of as black today.

White

“White” is a little more straightforward. In Old English, it meant “bright and radiant, or clear and fair.” It could be describing something we think of as white such as snow, milk, or an old person’s hair, but it could also describe something transparent, or something light yellow, pale gray, or silver. Online Etymology Dictionary says “White” is also one of the oldest surnames in English, originally referring to people with fair hair or a fair complexion.

There are still languages today that have just two words for colors that are essentially white for all light or warm colors and black for all dark or cool colors.

Red

That surprised me, but one thing that surprised me most was that the next color almost all languages name is red—one theory is that it’s because it is the color of blood.

Although black, white, and red all likely go back to the prehistoric language Proto-Indo-European (PIE), Online Etymology Dictionary states that red is “the only color for which a definite common PIE root word has been found.

Red shows up in a lot of place names where it referred to the color of natural elements such as rocks and soil. For example, the Oxford English Dictionary lists Radcliffe, Radclive, Redmile, Redford, and Rattery, all from 1086, and slightly later Radly and Redhill. The same root for “red” also likely gave us the word for the color “rust.”

In those early days though, “red” was probably the name for the color rust, as well as purple, pink, and orange.

In fact, we call people redheads instead of orangeheads because at the time we started calling them anything, the word “orange” hadn’t entered the language as a color word, and the word “red” included the orangey color of red hair.

Interestingly, the Irish writer Stan Carey told me that the Irish word for red hair is different from the general Irish word for red.

Grue

After red, most languages add a word for either yellow or a spectrum that includes both green and blue that language experts sometimes call “grue.” Since blue and green are so prevalent in nature, I would have expected one of them to be the third word more languages would add, but I was wrong!

You can think of these as the five base colors that most languages have: black, white, red, yellow, and green/blue. And English today is described as having 11 main color words: those five base colors (black, white, red, yellow, and green/blue) plus brown, orange, pink, purple and gray, but some languages have more or different words. For example, Russian, Greek, and Turkish have separate words for light blue and dark blue.

Gray, Brown, and Orange

Gray and brown are both very old words that go back to Old English, and orange came from the color of the fruit after oranges were introduced to Europe, around the mid-1500s.

Purple

Purple was originally a shade of crimson “obtained from mollusc dye” and associated with people of importance such as emperors, kings, cardinals, and so on. It came to describe many colors in the spectrum between red and violet. The color we think of as purple today was first called purple in the 1400s.

Pink

Pink is especially interesting. According to the OED, “pink” originally referred to “a greenish-yellow lake pigment made by combining a vegetable coloring matter with a white base such as a metallic oxide.” It seems like that first “pink” was more of a description of the process than the color, since the OED notes there were colors such as green pink, brown pink, rose pink, and pink yellow. The origin of the word is unknown, but in the 1600s, the word “pink” also started being used to mean the light red color we think of today. The origin of the greenish-yellow pink and the light red pink are both listed as unknown, and it’s unclear to me whether etymologists think they are related, but I think not.

This second pink—the one we think of today—probably comes from the color of the flower Dianthus, but the flower probably got its name from the spiky, scalloped shape of its petals because if you’ve ever used pinking shears, you know that “pink” has another meaning: to cut a scalloped or zigzag edge on fabric. Earlier, it also meant to punch holes or slits into fabric. So the “cut fabric” meaning of pink came first, the flower Dianthus was called a pink because of the shape of its petals, and then we got the color pink from the color of the Dianthus flowers.

But English also had a different word to describe the color pink before we started using “pink.” In the 1500s and into following centuries you could use the word “incarnate,” which comes from the Latin word for “flesh.” It doesn’t look like it was used alone the way we use colors alone today, as in “That flower is pink.” Still, you could describe something as “an incarnate color,” meaning a pink or fleshy color, or say you picked “incarnate clovers,” meaning pink clovers.

Colors from Nature

Colors continued to come from nature through the 1700s. For example, ultramarine, a blue color, comes from Latin that means “beyond the sea,” probably because the color originally came from a blue pigment from the mineral lapis lazuli which came from Asia.

The late 1700s gave us “maroon,” from the French word for the color of a chestnut, and “puce,” from the French word for flea or the color of a flea (yes, the insect).

Colors After Chemical Dyes

Advances in chemistry in the mid-1800s that allowed manufacturers to make synthetic dyes led to an explosion of new colors, and the fashion industry in particular embraced the ability to add novelty to its products and drove the adoption of many new color words. According to a book called “Bright Modernity: Color, Commerce, and Consumer Culture”:

“Women’s magazines disseminated the names of new colors and sometimes their origins. Acquiring this knowledge was part of keeping up with fashion for the  middle-class female consumer.”

Many of these new color words came from French. Some of the colors this new era gave us include the following:

  • Mauve: The French word for the color of the mallow plant’s flower
  • Ecru: From the French word for “raw or unbleached” because it is the color of unbleached linen
  • Beige: From the French word to describe the color of undyed, unbleached wool
  • Burgundy: Referring to the color of wine through the Burgundy region in France
  • Turquoise: From the Old French word for “Turkish” because the turquoise-colored stone was originally imported from the Turkish region

The mid-1800s also gave us “aquamarine,” which comes from Latin and means “sea-water,” and “khaki,” which comes from the Urdu word for “dusty.”

Tangerine, the fruit, got its name in the mid-1800s because that particular type of orange was imported from Tangier, and it started being used as a color word in 1899.

There are so many more interesting color words, and I just learned that Kory Stamper from Merriam-Webster is writing an entire book about color words, but I’ll end with the two words that got me started on this grand expedition into color words in the first place: magenta and solferino.

Magenta was originally patented in 1859 by a French chemist and called “fuchsine,” after the fuchsia flower, but soon thereafter was changed to honor a French military victory over the Austrians near the northern Italian town of Magenta. And solferino is a bright crimson purplish red or purplish pink (sources disagree) named around the same time as magenta after a village in northern Italy, again because of a battle that took place in the region.

Solferino also appears to be a coloring that can be added to liquor, at least it was in 1866 when it was used as a tincture that was mentioned alongside caramel and turmeric in the book The Independent Liquorist. The author described solferino as “The handsomest, as well as the most powerful color known to the trade.”

Source: quickanddirtytips.com

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Poetry: Making Music with Words

Most writers are primarily concerned with the meaning of the words they choose. Is the language precise and accurate? Do the words provide the best connotation for what the writer is trying to communicate? Does the language show, rather than tell?

But poets take language a step further and push it into the realm of music. Poets care about meaning, precision, and accuracy as well as connotation and imagery. But they also care about how words sound, because musicality is a fundamental feature of poetry.

Poets use various elements of music to compose a poem. But because the written word is read and not heard, some elements of music aren’t available, like pitch and timbre.

Spoken word and performance (or slam) poetry are exceptions, because these works are designed to be heard and can incorporate musical elements that aren’t available to authors who write to be read. But most poets rely on a variety of literary devices and techniques to bring music to their work. Foremost among these are meter, sound, rhyme, repetition, and structure.

Meter (Rhythm)

In poetry, meter is a syllabic pattern, which is determined by stressed and unstressed syllables. We’ll use bold to denote stressed syllables in the first line of “What Kind of Times Are These” by Adrienne Rich:

There’s a place between two stands of trees where the grass grows uphill

Let’s see what happens when we strip away the language, so we can see the raw meter of the line:

da-da-DUM da-DUM da-DUM da-DUM da-da DUM DUM da-DUM

As you can see, the meter gives the poem rhythm, an underlying drumbeat. This demonstration shows why it’s important to review the syllables in the lines of your poetry to check the meter.

Sound (Melody)

A song’s melody is determined by the sequence and length of notes played or sung by musicians. In poetry, melody is driven by the vowel and consonant sounds within the words of the poem. Consider this simple tune: la de-da, la de-da, la-la-la. 

Now compare it to this: doo-da, doo-da, doo-de-da.

We don’t know the exact notes or melody just from reading these sounds, but there is an implied tune when we read them aloud. We can bring a little rhythm to the sounds as well by placing stress on select syllables:

LA de-da, LA de-da, LA-LA-LA. 

DOO-da, DOO-da, DOO-de-DA.

So how do we put it all together? By choosing words that match the melody and meter that we’re aiming for:

LA de-da, LA de-da, LA-LA-LA. 
On the dock, six o’clock, stomp on rock

DOO-da, DOO-da, DOO-de-DA.
Stooping, drooping, boorish king

You’ll notice that in addition to rhythm and meter, we introduced some rhymes.

Rhyme

The most common rhymes are perfect end rhymes–words that appear at the end of lines in poetry and that rhyme perfectly. Here’s an example from Dr. Seuss’s The Lorax:

Unless someone like you cares a whole awful lot
Nothing is going to get better, it’s not.

The words lot and not rhyme perfectly and are placed at the end of the first two lines, respectively. The placement of rhyme in a poem, coupled with its meter, can give the lines a sing-song quality. We can use different meters, sounds, and rhyme placements to pull different musical qualities into our poetry. Here’s an excerpt from “Spelling” by Margaret Atwood, which shows internal rhymes:

At the point where language falls away
from the hot bones, at the point
where the rock breaks open and darkness
flows out of it like blood, at
the melting point of granite

Try reading these lines aloud to hear the inherent music contained within. Notice that the lines do not use a metrical pattern, but the layered internal rhymes give it rhythm:

  • away and breaks
  • hot and rock
  • bones, open, and flows
  • The word point appears three times in these five lines, but the repetition of this word is barely noticeable.

It’s worth noting that some poems don’t rhyme at all. Rhyme is important in poetry, but it’s actually a subset of a broader and even more important poetic device that is essential in both poetry and music: repetition. After all, rhyme is just repetition of sounds.

Repetition

Repetition is the technique that really sums up how we make music out of words in poetry. All of the techniques mentioned above ultimately use repetition:

  • We create a pattern of stressed and unstressed syllables — and a pattern is really just repetition.
  • We choose words and arrange them in such a way that they create a pseudo melody, which is achieved primarily by patterning (or repeating) certain sounds.
  • And we use rhyme — maybe end rhymes that ring like cymbals or internal rhymes that jingle like a tambourine. Rhymes are, by nature, repetition.

Layering the repetitions of these elements creates greater musical dynamics in a poem.

As you can see, a poem’s musicality really comes from the repetition of various elements within the lines and stanzas. And there are more elements that we can repeat. Alliteration is the repetition of consonant sounds in close proximity: prickly pears. Assonance is the repetition of vowel sounds in close proximity: hat rack.

Some poems even use repetition in their very structure.

Structure

A poem’s music also comes from its structure — the length of lines and stanzas, placement of line and stanza breaks, punctuation, and spacing. All of these elements contribute to the poem’s structural sounds and therefore contribute to its musicality.

In music, a rest is an interval of silence. In poetry, these intervals are indicated by line breaks, stanza breaks, punctuation, and spacing. Rests are similar to the concept of white space in art.

For example, punctuation provides indicators for pausing (or resting) with commas and periods or inflections for questions and exclamations.

Do You Make Music with Poetry?

Plenty of excellent works of poetry aren’t especially musical. But musicality is an important aspect of poetry.

How do you infuse your poetry with music?

By Melissa Donovan
Source: writingforward.com

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2 Tools for Improving Your Writing

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From the good folks at  Beyond Paper Editing

Editors’ tips for writers
by C.K. MacLeod
@CKmacleodwriter

Learning to write well is a process, and there is so much to consider—from story structure to the words you choose.

In self-publishing circles, there is a lot of discussion about perfecting plot, characters, and dialogue—the elements of story—but comparatively little airtime is given to the building blocks of stories: words.

Sometimes, the words we use can clutter our writing and jolt the reader out of the story. Strunk & White calls these words “needless words.” That’s good news. If these words are needless, we don’t need them, and if your writing will be better without them, the solution is simple!

Needless Words

So, what are needless words? In a nutshell, any word that can be deleted without altering the meaning of a sentence or threatening correct grammatical construction is a needless word.
Strunk and White list some examples in the Omit Needless Words section of their famous style guide. Janice Hardy’s Words to Avoid list is another terrific resource for learning which words you can do without.

Hunting down needless words is an easy way to clean up your writing because it often requires nothing more from you than to find the offending words and press the delete button. Excise these words from your writing and you’re well on your way to communicating clearly.

Finding Needless Words

I know what you’re thinking… Do I have to pick through every word in my 300-page book?You can, but I’m not suggesting that you find needless words manually in a word-by-word manner. Oh, no. There are tools for that. Nowadays, simple tech tools can help you root out those words that muddy your writing.

Below, I’ve listed two tools that authors can use to polish their prose: one for Word users and the other for Scrivener users.

Word Tool

In Microsoft Word, you can use a simple highlighting macro that will hunt down and highlight all of the needless words in your book in a matter of minutes. I call it the Needless Words macro, in honour of Strunk & White. You can then decide how to address those highlighted words (delete them!).

NeedlessWords macro in action

You can find the Needless Words macro at Tech Tools for Writers.

Scrivener Tool

Scrivener’s Word Frequency tool is less sophisticated, but still worth a mention. It doesn’t highlight needless words, but it indicates words you may have overused. You can then use Scrivener’s Find and Replace function to find and scrutinize those words you’ve used most. In Scrivener, you can find the Word Frequency tool by going to the Project, Text Statistics, Word Frequency.

Scrivener’s Text Statistics tool

Scrutinizing words is best left for the revision stage of writing, after the the big-picture elements and paragraph-level elements have been addressed. Taking the time to give your writing attention at the word level will ensure a smoother read for your readers.

 

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