Open Dictionary word of the week: cerulean

Posted by on February 22, 2012

BY Stephzz via Wikimedia Commonscerulean (adjective)

deep blue; sky blue

The clouds were scattered across a great cerulean sky.

(Submitted by: Ev from United States)

There must be a number of fascinating books on the subject of colour names, but for those in need of instant gratification, there’s always Wikipedia.  Where you’ll find this:

The first recorded use of cerulean as a color name in English was in 1590.[1] The word is probably derived from the Latin word caeruleus, “dark blue, blue or blue-green”, which in turn probably derives from caelulum, diminutive of caelum, “heaven, sky.”

Cerulean was nominated colour of the Millennium by Pantone in 1999, for all sorts of fascinating reasons pertaining to pyschology, socio-economics, and its mass appeal. The most wonderful thing about names of colours – aside from the basic green, red, white etc – is how their names colour the language. And so many descriptions are enriched by all the various words for colour shades : I’d rather walk out into an indigo night than a dark-purpley-blue one; rather swim in an azure sea than a bright blue one; rather dye my hair auburn than reddy-brown.

Even more interesting than the words themselves is, perhaps, the role of colour in addressing the ‘linguistic relativity question between language and thought‘ – does our language determine the way we see colour? Which brings me to the main reason I thought cerulean would be a good word of the week – reading up on it led me to an experiment which is being carried out online, which those of us interested in words and language in general may like to take part in: the Colour Naming Experiment which is ‘part of research on color naming and color categorisation within different cultures, and aims to improve the inter-cultural color dialogue’. Give it a try.

The other thing is that Wikipedia led me to a wonderful blog post on World Wide Words  on colour-naming- WWW was a runner-up for best blog in our Love English Awards competition that ended last month. Cerulean may be the colour of serendipity. What’s your favourite colour name?

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Comments (3)
  • When the conductor of our choir described our singing as ‘beige’ last night he wasn’t being complimentary…

    Posted by Liz Potter on 22nd February, 2012
  • Laine I will agree that cerulean is an excellent choice for word of the week, you can find more about its psychological importance in Prof J. Mollon research on unique hues.

    I would like to take this opportunity to thank you for your kind support in promoting our colour naming experiment. With the help of thousands of participants we have recently developed a beta version of a colour naming application (colournamer) that facilitates colour communication within and between cultures (available at http://colornaming.net/research/) but this is just the beginning and we would be delighted to learn more colour names!

    Posted by dimitris on 25th February, 2012
  • Hi dimitris, I had fun doing the colour-naming experiment … though dismayed at how few colour names sprang to mind and found myself using, for example, ‘dark blue’, ‘light blue’, greeny-blue’ etc. I hope lots of people follow your link (http://colornaming.net/research/) , really fascinating research you’re doing.

    Posted by Laine on 25th February, 2012
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