New Word #3: Many Shades of Brown

It is said the Eskimos have fifty words for snow and certain people living in rain forests have fifty words for different shades of green.

I had not noticed the big number of words for the brown color until I read “Heartburn”, in which the main character’s friend Arthur complains about colors–he doesn’t know about the colors like taupe, cerise, and ecru because he was not given a big box of crayons as a child. He had a small box and the colors were limited. He ends up only knowing burnt sienna.

It dawned on me that while other children just play with crayons for fun and random scrawl, native English speakers play with crayons to learn words. Since English has so many words, it is important to pick up words in everything one does.

I immediately started to google taupe, cerise, ecru and sienna. My googling only adds to my confusion: How many strange words like these are there in existence? How useful are they? Do they belong to the realm of painters and artists? Do they belong to the leisure class who can afford to waste time on different shades of cosmetics, or subtle variations of dress pigment? Do I need to know them as a busy non-native speaker who has no time for such subtleties? If I don’t know them, will people laugh at me? Is each word used on different occasions, on different objects?

So far I have the following words for different shades of brown–russet, hazel, mousy, sepia, mahogany, umber, ocher, sienna, burnt sienna, beige, buff, tan, chestnut, copper, bronze, rust, taupe, ecru–but I know there are more.

Do people really use them in their daily life? I really don’t know. Will they say, “our lawn turns sepia, or the desk is an umber color, or we have an ecru colored sauce for your pork chop?”

However, if a word exists, there must be at least a group of people who use it. Probably just for a niche in a trade, but still it is regularly used.

There was a time I aspire to master English vocabulary, but I’ve since given it up. It’s a daunting task. Now I am content to be the slave of English vocabulary. LOL.

Have you ever encountered a strange word about a color?

27 thoughts on “New Word #3: Many Shades of Brown

  1. I had never noticed before your intriguing post but my family used some of the brown words regularly, e.g., tan (pants), beige (couch), copper, rust, etc., to describe color shades. Not sure others would agree with the designations but we knew what we meant!

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    1. Thanks for sharing of your experience of using tan, beige, copper, rust. I heard of “somebody being tanned” and “rusty color” before, but not any other. LOL. So they are used by people regularly. πŸ˜ŠπŸ˜‰πŸ‘

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  2. Interesting post.πŸ‘ Being in love with words, I really enjoyed picking up some new ones here. The idea of new interesting words always gets me. (But not the convoluted harsh sounding ones)
    Ecru I’ve never used though taupe I knew, thanks to a lipstick shade of that color😍The shades of brown were nicely enumerated by you! Russet, burnt sienna, etc have such warm pleasing tones reminiscent of autumn colors. Personally I love the idea of picking up new words as long as they they sound good! And love using them too if they are not forced into the conversation for mere effect!

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    1. I’ve never heard of taupe being used. Now I know. It is a beautiful shade for lips. LOL. Yes, russet and burn sienna. They do sound euphoria. That’s exactly the point that when we try to use them, I hope it is not forced into the conversation. LOL. Hope it is naturally occurring like other words.

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  3. I worked in a clothing store years ago and learned some different colors but I have also noticed that some color words seem only to have limited use. I have only heard sepia used in relation to old-fashioned looking photography. I think the need to know some of these things depends on your own interest, as well. If you are painting your kitchen then you might care about the difference between ecru and eggshell and off-white, otherwise maybe not so much.

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    1. Thank you for sharing. So sepia is being used. I enjoy those old photography and now I can recall those fading brown color. So that is sepia. LOL. You describe it in such a spot-on way that people instantly have an idea what it is. Yes, that’s what I thought. Artists or home renovators may know more about the color tones. Now you mention it, eggshell is a brown color. LOL. I hope all the brown color words can be so easily understandable.

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  4. I’m guessing artists/art students probably use those words but apart from people who specifically do stuff related to colours I doubt many people use them on a daily basis. I have been learning a new word a day and it’s crazy to me how many words there are that I didn’t even know existed.

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    1. You are absolutely right. Yes, people use it for specific things, when they paint their room. Or a tailor is talking about a shade for a dress etc. People don’t regularly use those niche word. LOL. You are right that English is a collector, or a hoarder when I’m in a complaining mood, of words. It doesn’t matter where the word is from, how long it is, how different it sound, it collects it.

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  5. This is a very interesting topic that you initiated. There indeed are too many words in English that might never get used. Example of pink and light red is perfect ! Also, I wonder if a non-english speaker gets all excited to find us using pink in our conversation. They would have used the word light red instead of pink!

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  6. Funny you should say that. When I was learning Korean, they had many different names for many different colors. It was hard for me to learn, then I found out why: our language shapes our perception of colors. One example that blew my mind is how one culture see one shade of red as dark red and another light red, whereas English speaking cultures see light red as “pink”.

    Here’s some short videos on the subject: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=mgxyfqHRPoE

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    1. I watched this video and it is really blowing my mind that such an easy blue color is not being recognized for people who is more used to green. I guess eyes are similar to ears too. i never know this before. I mean I know that our ears are funny that as we grow up listening to certain sound, our ears are attuned to these sounds. It ends up that other sounds become indistinguishable. As a non-native speaker, I know I can’t distinguish between “ea” and “i”, between “th” and “s”, between “o” and “a”. Actually half of the vowels are indistinguishable to my ears. Without context, it is impossible… So the eyes are like that too. LOL. How our habits mold us? No wonder humans tend to live in a dogmatic stupor. πŸ€£πŸ˜‚πŸ˜œ

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