Word of the Day


Liz Potter
Written by Liz Potter


something that is sepia is a red-brown colour

View the full definition in the Macmillan Dictionary.

Origin and usage

The noun sepia was originally used in English in the mid 16th century to refer to the cuttlefish, from the creature’s Latin name ‘sepia’ (‘seppia’ in Italian). Its use to refer to a pigment produced from the ink of the cuttlefish, or the colour of this pigment, is more recent, dating from the early 19th century.


The noun and adjective sepia are today used to refer to a reddish-brown colour or to things of that colour, typically old photographs, or drawings and paintings made with sepia ink. While sepia ink made from the ink sacs of cuttlefish was commonly used by artists before the 20th century, modern inks and paints of that colour are produced industrially. You can see a lovely example of a painted sepia image in the noun entry. Sepia is also commonly associated with the appearance of old photographs. Black and white photographs can be given a sepia tinge by using a chemical process, and this process is mimicked by modern digital cameras in order to produce the same effect.


“I live among diffuse shadings, veiled mysteries, uncertainties; the tone of telling my life is closer to that of a portrait in sepia.”
(Isabel Allende, Portrait in Sepia)

Sepia in particular tends to make everything look a bit romantic and almost sentimental, hence the fact that it remains such a popular choice for wedding photographs.
(Martin Parr, photographer)

Related words

bleached, monochrome, muted, neutral

Browse related words in the Macmillan Thesaurus.

About the author

Liz Potter

Liz Potter

Leave a Comment