The colour of culture

The World According to Colour by James Fox is a book for anyone interested in colour and how it shapes our world, with chapters on seven of the most important: black, red, yellow, blue, white, purple, and green. The book is packed with historical and cultural insights and easy to read.

I particularly enjoyed the discussion of Shakespeare and his world of colour. Shakespeare’s vocabulary in his plays has been estimated at 17-20,000 words (many of which he invented). In this huge vocabulary he used ten colour terms. In order of frequency he most commonly used black (202 mentions), white, green, red, blue, yellow, brown, purple, and grey (23 mention). Pink wasn’t a word until the 1660s.

The use of the word black is particularly interesting, with so many expressions that are now common in English: ‘black as ink’, ‘black as jet’, ‘black as e’er was crow’, ‘black-faced’ (a description of night), ‘black veil’ (death), and ‘hell black’.

All in all, enjoyable reading for anyone interested in colour.

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