Some words about colours

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What colour is this flower? It’s yellow, right?  We thought so too! But we heard something mind-blowing the other day. Did you know that ‘pink’ used to mean ‘yellow’? Us neither. How can pink be yellow? Apparently, it’s because there is a German word ‘pinkeln’ which means to urinate (we know – this isn’t the kind of thing we usually talk about). In the past, walls were often covered with distemper, a kind of whitewash, which could be coloured. The distemper was sold in powder form and mixed up when needed – except for a yellow colour, which was sold as a liquid, hence being associated with ‘pinkeln’ and so ‘pink’. This was convenient and popular but over time, the most popular colour became a kind of pale red and the name stuck. There is also an artists colour called ‘Dutch Pink’ which is a light greenish yellow. In more recent times, ‘pink’ as a description of a colour is generally thought to refer to the flower dianthus, which is also known as a pink. They became popular in the seventeenth century, round about the time that the word pink became generally linked with the colour we associate it with now.

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And something else we didn’t know – when people in the plastics industry talk about PVC ‘yellowing’ they don’t necessarily mean that the PVC has gone yellow because ‘yellowing’ can show as several colours, one of which is pink! (And this is not the same as ‘pinking’, which also turns the PVC pink but which results from a specific manufacturing process. We read these things so you don’t have to.) Oh – and maroon used to mean brown, not red. And auburn used to mean brownish white rather than reddish brown. Don’t even try and guess what blue used to mean…

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