Wednesday, October 12, 2016

Burnt Umber

Some languages have only black (or dark) and light (white) as color words. Those languages that add a third color word always seem to add red. Additional words are added in an almost perfectly regular order. The maximum, as in English, seems to be eleven, and they are almost exactly the same eleven.

Of course this doesn't mean speakers of those languages with fewer color words see fewer colors or are impoverished in their ability to describe colors. Instead, they probably resort to devices familiar to artists and whoever names the contents of the giant-sized Crayola boxes - compare the color to something in our experience, like the color of the leaves of the dgoberry tree, or its fruit when ripe, or burnt umber.

What the hell is umber anyway, and why would anybody burn it? I have no idea, but Wikipedia does, including the fact that it is darker than the other earth pigments sienna and ochre.