Wednesday, July 21, 2004

Colors I

We’re breaking up the colors into two bunches. Here’s the first group, along with some derivations and memory hints.

black / czarny / černý / čierna
white / biały / bílý / biela
red / czerwony / červený / červená
blue / niebieski / modrý / modrá
green / zielony / zelený / zelená

black: think charred and charnel
white: probably from IE bhel-, shine; think lily-white/bily-white
blue: the Polish means sky-colored, same source as nebula; modr- seems to be from the same source as madder, an herb from which a dark blue dye is made
green: from IE ghel-, yellow(ish). Green isn’t yellow! It’s melony zellow!
red: comes from the word for worm. We thought it referred to the carbuncle (ruby-like object) formed on the skin where a worm has burrowed in. Vermillion (like vermicelli, little worms) followed this path. But a reader tells us:
The word does come from "worm" (czerw), but that's because the worm (called kermes in English) was the source for red dye for centuries in Eastern Europe. It's similar to the cochineal insect in the Americas, which also yields a red dye. The grubs were gathered in June, and they gave the name for the month of June in Polish (Czerwiec).
Thanks to J. Armata for the information.