Saturday, February 22, 2014

Où sont les beiges d'antan?

It is hard to venture down to the Old Entomologist at the moment, what with the sports screen up on the wall, and the non-stop Winter Olympics action, so here at Riddled Research Laboratory we have occupied ourselves designing national artificial snowboarding slopes, based on each country's language, in anticipation of the future when natural snow is a thing of the past. More specifically, they are based on the relative prominence of colour terms within the chromatic lexicon of each language.
You can see that the slopes all start with a gentle incline consisting of the six primary hues (four 'cardinal hues' plus black and white)... dropping to the secondary hues of pink and brown and such as... then another drop to the long tail of non-basic, fancy colour terms, all those froofy words that one uses when establishing one's status as fashion writer, interior decorator, or unscrupulous Scrabble player (but I repeat myself).

But what is the story with all these 'beige' words, creeping up towards the threshold of basicness?
'Beige' is (as any fule kno) the second-hardest colour word to spell correctly in English, coming in closely behind 'fuchsia'. In early drafts of Gormenghast, Sepulchrave's daughter was variously called Biege, Bayzh and Baigzh, until Mervyn Peake's family called his attention to the inconstancy, so he changed it. Not many people know that.

So let us venture back into the unmapped, branching and often hazardous corridors of Memory, walking steadfastly and looking straight ahead without so much as glancing at certain firmly-boarded doors -- and soon we reach 1987. And here are Boynton and Olson, writing about a lacuna in colour space, in which a Terra Incognita of chromatic nomenclature might fit. Evidently 'beige' was not a word then:
But Sturges and Whitfield replicated their work in 1995, and suddenly Beige was there on the radar!
Russian Blues
What had happened in the intervening eight years? My theory is that someone called the attention of Cold Warriors in the Reagan administration to the existence, in Russian, of two words for Blue -- синий and голубой, dark and light blue. And there was thumping of fists on the table. "Mr. President, we must not allow a colour vocabulary gap!" So a new word was chosen and the message went out to pundits and thought leaders to drop it casually into columns & conversations.

Once the addition was entrenched in English, the familiar process of Morphogenetic Resonance made it so much easier for other languages to develop in the same direction.

Data courtesy of Dr Mari Uusküla of the Institute of the Estonian Language.

The Eastern Bloc continues to lead! Belarusian and Ukrainian have the two versions of blue (sini / synij plus 'light blue' blakitny / blakytnyj) but according to Hippersley's data from 2001 they have also adopted Beige. Those, like Russian, are from the Eastern Slavic family of languages. Unfortunately there is no evidence that Czech (from the Western Slavic family) has two Basic 'blue' words; otherwise "Bohemian Rhapsody in Blue" would be available as the title for a paper.

Obama let America lose the Colour Vocabulary race!


H. Rumbold, Master Barber said...

Beige is the Umami of colour space.

ifthethunderdontgetya™³²®© said...

Without beige, we'd have no beigels.

mikey said...

Beige Velour...

Yastreblyansky said...

Not to detract from your considerable and possibly important scientific achievement here, but why is there a mouseover on the Spanish and Turkish charts?

Smut Clyde said...

To deprive anyone else of the satisfaction of pointing out the shape of the blue outline.

Big Bad Bald Bastard said...

Winter Olympics? Wouldn't they be the Upside-Down Summer Olympics for youse guys?

In early drafts of Gormenghast, Sepulchrave's daughter was variously called Biege, Bayzh and Baigzh, until Mervyn Peake's family called his attention to the inconstancy, so he changed it.


Mandos said...

But for an "n" and a "t" this post could have been about donuts.

"Où sont les beingets d'antan?"

Mandos said...

with the g and the n the other way around *smacks forehead*

fish said...

I think this can simply be explained by the emergence of the personal computer. Every single one from 1983-2006 delivered in a beige box.

Also too, I don't know what Sia did, but I don't think it warrants such language towards her.