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?