A world of colors

This happened recently again... I can't say I'm surprised because we are dealing with some apparently bizarre concepts here, something that is not even in many people's paradigm. I am, however, bothered by the way people sometimes react to the whole thing.

What lies beyond the cut is long... and a tiny bit ranty



It started with me looking at some silk scarves in a store. I like scarves and there were quite a few for me to look at. As I was browsing the scarves in a very indecisive manner this woman came up to me and said that she thinks that "blue" one would work very well on me.

"Oh, really? Thanks!" my eyes drifted to what my brain decided is blue, I reached for the only "blue" scarf on the rack and pulled it off the hanger. It was this color:


I look horrible in most shades of "blue", this one no exception. I thanked the nice lady for her suggestion, said that I think the scarf is beautiful but I sure did wish it would look better with my skin tone.

"Oh no, I meant the other blue one, this one!" and she pulls out a scarf I've been considering getting anyway. Good eye, lady, except that it was this color:

This, my friends, is NOT blue. To me anyway. It's... a separate thing. The same word is not to be used interchangeably to describe both.

Clearly my tired brain switched into its "default" (that is, Russian-speaking) state for such unimportant things as color nomenclature. Also my "must not be a nerd all the time in public" filter died and "must correct inaccuracy" / "must impart knowledge no one wants" functionality has been set off by this event, SURELY people are always curious to learn things they may not have known before? TheMoreYouKnow.jpg, etc.

I thanked her for the suggestion, said that I think that's the scarf I'm going to get and explained to her that it's kind of funny, that thing with the "blue" and the "not blue" that happened because Russian has an extra "atomic" word for color that English doesn't have, I guess it's what folks call "sky blue" (голубой). And Hungarian has an extra color as well, "dark red". She was all "bwuh? But we have words for these colors as well in English" and I explained to her that it's not quite the same, much like you wouldn't say that "orange" is just a variant of "yellow" as an English speaker. And that you can have a "greenish-bluish" color because the two are different, and in Russian certain colors can also be called "greenish-bluish" and others can be called "greyish-sky-bluish", but you wouldn't say that in English, like you wouldn't say that something is "maroonish-purplish" unless you were purposefully trying to be extremely specific. And I said that some languages only have a two-way and a three-way color distinction, usually black-white and black-white-red.

Ah, here we go, BINGO! "These sound like very primitive languages! You wouldn't hear that in a modern society!"

OH NO YOU DID NOT JUST SAY IT. A PRIMITIVE LANGUAGE??? NO. Just... no. No such thing. All languages (and that doesn't include pidgins and even creoles) are approximately equally complex, it's sad that people don't realize that. Just another way to denigrate people who don't live in industrialized societies. D'awww, their language must be simple, just like their little mind. That's why their country is in shambles and why none of them have ever won a Nobel Prize (although clearly sometimes you don't need to do anything at all to win one. -ahem-)

Well, this woman was at least pretty open-minded and it only took some explanation of how languages are all complex in their own way, and a simple "well, does that mean that Russian is more developed than English and that we are a more ~modern nation just because we have a color word English doesn't have?" I've had these conversations with unsuspecting strangers before and quite a few of them left me red in the face and muttering things about daft myopic people. For example I had a very similar encounter when I worked at a fabric store (a petri dish for color-related arguments, I am telling you...). Except that time the lady who pulled the "blah blah primitive people primitive language" card was stubborn and daft. Why don't people want to accept a possibility that the world is NOT the way they think it is? The good thing is that I didn't get fired. The not so good thing is that it was probably only because the managers at the store liked me very much. Stubborn stupidity and unwillingness to look past convictions pisses me off, especially when it concerns things that I really care about.

I don't intend to sound self-righteous, this is mostly still an interesting thing to me, seeing this paradigm shift in people who *want* to accept new information about the world. But stubborn stupid in the face of pretty undeniable facts bothers me. Always has.

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