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February 19, 2021

Quarantine Cafe: Blue is a Social Construct Edition

Weird thing: "Blue" is always the last of the main colors to be named in a language. The order goes Black, then white, then red, then green, then yellow (sometimes green and yellow are flipped), and only later -- thousands and thousands of years later -- blue.

Many cultures do not recognize blue as a separate color. Some call it a type of green, many call it a... shade of black.


This video about this phenomenon is interesting.

As is this one.

An interesting point is that it's only after people develop the word for "blue" -- or any other color -- that they begin to actually recognize it. Having the word for a thing trains the brain to see the thing.


The Japanese didn't call blue green. Instead, they called green blue, at least until they decided to invent a word for green.

Wikipedia on the gradual division of a broad color that covered everything from blue to green into separate colors:

In many languages, the colors described in English as "blue" and "green" are colexified, i.e. expressed using a single cover term. To describe this English lexical gap, linguists use the portmanteau word grue, from green and blue,[citation needed] a term coined by the philosopher Nelson Goodman--with a rather different meaning--in his 1955 Fact, Fiction, and Forecast to illustrate his "new riddle of induction".

The exact definition of "blue" and "green" may be complicated by the speakers not primarily distinguishing the hue, but using terms that describe other color components such as saturation and luminosity, or other properties of the object being described. For example, "blue" and "green" might be distinguished, but a single term might be used for both if the color is dark. Furthermore, green might be associated with yellow, and blue with either black or gray.

According to Brent Berlin and Paul Kay's 1969 study Basic Color Terms: Their Universality and Evolution, distinct terms for brown, purple, pink, orange, and gray will not emerge in a language until the language has made a distinction between green and blue. In their account of the development of color terms the first terms to emerge are those for white/black (or light/dark), red and green/yellow.[1]

Although Chinese now has words for green and blue, for thousands of years they only had the word "qing" to describe everything from green to blue to black.

The modern Chinese language has the blue–green distinction... however, another word that predates the modern vernacular, qīng..., is also used. The character depicts the budding of a young plant and it could be understood as "verdant", but the word is used to describe colors ranging from light and yellowish green through deep blue all the way to black, as in xuanging.

This explains the counter-intuitiveness of the colors associated with the five Chinese elements.

Red is fire. Okay, that checks out. White is metal. Okay, I can see the flash of the sun on polished steel. That works.

But then... yellow is earth. I guess they haven't created brown yet.

Wood is green, which is the color of leaves, if not actually wood.

And then water is black. Because they don't have a word for blue, and blue can be thought of as "light black."

I see they also associate "blue" with wood, which I take to mean the qing, which can be any color from green to blue, is being taken as the color of verdant plants.

A bit more color strangeness:

Women can see more colors -- or at least, they can more easily and quickly discriminate between fine shades of colors -- then men.

Is it true that dogs don't see color, but only light and dark? Answer no, not quite, but their color vision is more limited than humans'.

The forbidden color: yellowish-blue.

What are these intensely blue pools? (Okay, there's also some green and yellow and white pools.)

It's more interesting than you think, even if you figure out the basics.

Why is blue so rare in nature? I mean, apart from the sky. And the oceans and rivers. And a lot of birds.

Strangely, the color blue in bugs and birds is not due to a pigment, but to the arrangement of molecules which results in the surfaces absorbing colors except for blue. Maybe that's why it was so hard to make blue -- you can't extract it from butterfly wings, for example. The minute you heat or crush the wings, you destroy the structure that makes blue in the first place.

Important question: Where are all the blue foods?


Finally: This brings all the topics of this post together.

digg this
posted by Ace at 07:25 PM

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