How different languages came up with words for colors

It is striking that English color words come from many sources.

Some of the more exotic ones, like “vermilion” and “chartreuse,” were borrowed from French, and are named after the color of a particular item (a type of mercury and a liquor, respectively).

But even our words “black” and “white” didn’t originate as color terms. “Black” comes from a word meaning “burnt,” and “white” comes from a word meaning “shining.”

Color words vary a lot across the world.

Most languages have between two and 11 basic color words. English, for example, has the full set of eight basic colors: black, white, red, green, yellow, blue, pink, gray, brown, orange and purple.

In a 1999 survey by linguists Paul Kay and Luisa Maffi, languages were roughly equally distributed between the basic color categories that they tracked.

Read more: Business Insider

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