Notes on Colour

inconsistent names for colours


The range of colours covered by one name can be very wide. The borderlines between colours with different names are vague and variable. Pink  , for example, can mean anything from light red   to pale magenta   and beyond.

If someone says red they could easily mean   or   or   or   or   or anything in between. Cyan,   , is frequently called blue but it’s also called green in different contexts, particularly if it’s a darker cyan.

Normally this doesn’t matter, but…

The three diagrams are all taken from one book1—the second two are even on the same page—but the author gives different names to the identical red in different diagrams! She calls it red when it’s a primary color of white light or a pigment primary and orange when it’s a process secondary, and then uses orange to mean a different colour in the middle diagram!

This is not an isolated case. Many contemporary texts on painters’ colours make similarly confusing shifts of meaning. Even in scientific texts you may find a shift from red-cyan to red-green when describing the complementary pair   .