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In most Romance languages, the word for the pale red color pink comes from the same word as rose (the flower).   In English, however, the most common word for this pale red color is now “pink”—which was originally the common name of a little garden flower with a frilled edge–the dianthus.  The usage of the word “pink” to describe the pale reddish color became standard in the late eighteenth century, but before that the word described the flower–and occasionally idiomatic expressions which involved the flower.  Coincidentally English borrowed the name of the flower from Dutch, since, even in the middle ages, the Dutch were apparently the flower merchants of northern Europe.

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To further complicate this story, in the 17th century, “pinke” was a name for stil de grain yellow–a pigment which was traditionally manufactured from unripe buckthorn berries.  This yellow pigment was also known as yellow madder and it was mixed with natural blue substances to make murky greens.

So not only is it possible that pink does not exist as a color (or, at any rate, bright bluish pinks like magenta do not seem to exist naturally but are a trick of the brain) it also seems that the name for pink has fundamentally changed nature over the course of time.

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It is a confusing color with a confusing nomenclatural history, but it is still very beautiful.

Lesser Periwinkle (Vinca Minor)

Lesser Periwinkle (Vinca Minor)

This little flower is Vinca minor, the lesser periwinkle. It is native to Central Europe spreading down through Southern Europe into Asia Minor (although at this point it has naturalized throughout the temperate world as an invasive garden plant). In the United States they are sometimes confusingly (mis)called “myrtle”.

A magnificent carpet of lesser periwinkles (Vinca minor) near Vienna in Austria (photo: landschaftsfotos.at)

A magnificent carpet of lesser periwinkles (Vinca minor) near Vienna in Austria (photo: landschaftsfotos.at)

Lesser periwinkles are subshrubs (which would have made for a good insult in grade school). They grow only to 40 centimeters (16 inches) high and do not climb—though they spread rapidly into large clonal colonies. Periwinkles are members of the hardy Aster family (the plant family not the snooty otter-killing magnates from New York). With vigorous evergreen leaves and shapely five-petaled flowers, the plants can be used as perennial ground cover for flower gardens.

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The best and most famous feature of lesser periwinkles is the distinctive blue-purple color. In English the flower and its color have become synonymous—the latter surpassing the former in popular recognition! Periwinkle is a very lovely and soothing color which seems purple in some light and blue in others. It makes an ideal color for walls and home furnishings as well as garments.

Periwinkle

Song Dynasty celadon vase (circa 1100 AD)

Song Dynasty celadon vase (circa 1100 AD)

Celadon is a lovely muted shade of pale green which became famous as a porcelain glaze long ago in ancient dynastic China.  Although the technique for making the glaze was invented during the Tang dynasty, the zenith of celadon porcelain making was attained during the Sung dynasty when so many of the aesthetic conventions of Chinese culture came into flower.

A 'longquan' celadon 'lotus' bowl. Song dynasty. photo Sotheby's

A ‘longquan’ celadon ‘lotus’ bowl. Song dynasty. photo Sotheby’s

The perfect serenity of well-made celadon vessels has been compared to Buddhist enlightenment. Additionally, according to ancient folklore, celadon serviceware and drinking vessels would change color in the presence of poison.  Sadly this latter fact is an outright myth, however if the lie resulted in more celadon being produced then perhaps it was worth a few surprised dead Chinese nobles.  Celadon porcelain is magnificent.

A Longquan meiping vase with celadon glaze, (Early Ming dynasty)

A Longquan meiping vase with celadon glaze, (Early Ming dynasty)

Aquamarine Gemstone

Aquamarine Gemstone


One of my favorite precious stones in terms of pure beauty is the aquamarine. Like emerald, morganite, and heliodor, aquamarine is a type of beryl (beryllium aluminium cyclosilicate). Aquamarine gemstones are blue or bluish green. The name is Latin for “water of the sea” and there is a beautiful pale blue-green color which is also called aquamarine.
Aquamarine Tiara belonging to Queen Elizabeth II

Aquamarine Tiara belonging to Queen Elizabeth II


I was hoping to find a beautiful crown crafted out of aquamarine gemstones and it turns out that the Queen of England and the United Kingdom happens to have a lovely tiara made of Brazilian aquamarines (she has lots of nice things). It was commissioned from the jeweler Garrard in 1957 and apparently includes several aquamarines which the people of Brazil gave her as gifts (they never give me anything, but maybe I am not being patient enough). Queen Elizabeth II seems very fond of her lovely pale blue tiara and there are several photos of her wearing it.
The color aquamarine

The color aquamarine

I haven’t written about colors or about mammals for a while.  In order to brighten up your day with some endearing animal pictures, I have decided to combine the two topics by writing about the color fawn. This color is a pale yellow brown which is named for the delicate coloring of fawns (baby deer).  Actually the fawns of most species of deer have fawn-colored bellies while their backs are a darker brown with delicate white stipples.

A Fawn-colored Alpaca

The color fawn is often used to describe domestic animals such as cows, alpacas, and rabbits, however the animal which is most likely to be fawn is humankind’s best friend, the domestic dog.  Great Danes, chihuahuas, French bulldogs, boxers, and bull mastiffs are all often fawn-colored–as are an immense number of mixed-breed dogs. Some scientists speculate that the ancient wolves which were first domesticated in the depths of the ice age may have had yellowish fawn-colored coats (as do some extant sub-species of smaller southern wolves).

Pug Puppy

Mastiff Puppy

French Bulldog

Anatolian Shepherd

Great Dane

According to the stringent rules of dog-shows fawn dogs must have black muzzles, so yellow labs do not qualify.  However, judging by the photos returned when one image searches fawn dogs, it seems that many dog-fanciers are untroubled by precise use of the term.

The color fawn is also used to describe clothing.  Although today the color is not at the apogee of fashion, there were times when it was.  Since it was particularly appropriate for riding clothes, there are aristocratic eras when the color was regarded as the pinnacle of elegance and so it is not uncommon to come across 18th century portraits of foppish aristocrats wearing a veritable rainbow of fawn.

Portrait of David Garrick (Thomas Gainsborough, 1742, oil on canvas)

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