Have you ever read “In Praise of Folly” by the Dutch scholar Erasmus of Rotterdam? It is a magisterial work of humanist values which helped frame the Protestant Reformation (although Erasmus himself always remained a dutiful Catholic priest). The essay takes the form of a classical panegyric, in which the goddess Folly sets out to praise herself and her unrivaled influence over human affairs. After a thoroughly convincing enumeration of Folly’s worldwide power (a list which particularly aims at the excesses of temporal and spiritual princes), Erasmus ends his treatise with the concept that only true Christian devotion can combat folly–a somewhat disappointing conclusion if you happen to be skeptical.
Today’s post actually has almost nothing to do with Erasmus…or does it? Ferrebeekeeper has already evinced an unhealthy interest in architectural follies, fanciful structures with no apparent purpose other than to amuse or divert the great lords who commissioned them. Today we praise the color folly, a brilliant orange-pink crimson. Folly is most famous as a fashion color and finds frequent use in lipsticks, nail polish, and lady’s apparel. The name was first applied to the color during the roaring twenties as a booming chemical industry brought all sorts of new dyes and paints to market (also the name suits the euphoric giddiness of jazz-age excess).
Folly is not just used in nail polish. The flag of Nepal (which is arguably the strangest national flag because of its double pennant shape) has a folly-colored background. The pink-crimson of the Nepalese flag is the national color—it represents the mountain rhododendron and the brave yet joyful hearts of the Nepalese people. The rhododendron is not alone, there are many beautiful roses, zinnias, and azaleas which share the hue.
Folly is actually one of my favorite colors. I am not praising it ironically. I do wonder how we named such a pretty color with such a scandalous name. Fortunately, it is probably only a devoted fashionista or a history buff who would use the name folly today (everyone else would probably say “bright rose” or “orange-pink” or some bespoke name made up by copywriters), but how did we stumble into the name in the first place? Did some clever flapper decide to pillory her era by evoking the spirit of Erasmus? Folly is great, but its name is folly.