Today, every natural language that has words for colors identifies two to twelve basic colors. English identifies eleven. Do you know what they are? If you want to quiz yourself, do it now, before reading the text below. Hint: Indigo is not one of them.
In early times, the only colors that were identified were bright (white) and dark (black). As time went on, red became a recognized color. The next two identified colors were green and yellow (or yellow, then green), followed by blue. All languages that distinguish colors have these six colors. Interestingly, these six colors roughly correspond to the sensitivity of the retinal ganglion cells. This indicates that development of color identification might be related to biology.
Brown, orange, pink, purple, and gray were the next colors to appear as color names, but not in any particular order. People started identifying pink and purple as colors from pinks (dianthus flowers) and from Tyrian purple, the dye that became the royal color (wearing the purple). Orange is a color mystery. Was the fruit named for the color, or the color for the fruit? At this point, there’s no way of knowing.
The eleven colors identified in English are black, white, red, green, yellow, blue, brown, orange, pink, purple, and gray. Italy, Greece, and Russia name azure as the twelfth color. Other color names may be used in a language, but they are considered to be derivatives of the basic colors. Languages and cultures are selective when deciding which hues to split into different colors, based on how light or dark they are.
“I learned this from the Grammarly blog” said grammar-nerd Diane, wearing a teal-colored shirt (derived from blue).