Indigo, Violet and Purple

Jim   Wed Sep 21, 2005 4:42 am GMT
Here's a question that has been bugging me for some time. "Are indigo and violet shades of purple or not?" I've concluded that they are however no everyone seems to agree.

Now, you might be asking what the buggery this has to do with English. "Isn't this a question for a science forum?" you might ask. "Isn't this a question for an art forum?" you might ask. No, I insist, it is not, not at all.

This is a question about the definition of a word, the word "purple". So put the question that way and I ask "Does the definition of the word 'purple' include the the colours indigo and violet?" Well, my definition does. Does yours?

Now you well may be thinking "You dumbkoff, just look it up in a dictionary." Am I breaking Antimoon's rule number seven?

"If you want to post to this forum, you must agree that you will not post: ... Trivial vocabulary questions ('What does fragile mean?'). If you don't know what a word means, use a dictionary, for example the Cambridge online dictionary."

So I look the word up in the said dictionary and, lo, Cambridge seems to agree with me.

"purple [Show phonetics]
1 of a dark reddish blue colour:
purple plums
a dark purple bruise ...

"purple [Show phonetics]
noun [C or U]
a dark reddish blue colour:
She wore a dress of dark purple.
The evening sky was full of purples and reds."

"violet (COLOUR) [Show phonetics]
noun [U], adjective
(having) a bluish purple colour"

indigo [Show phonetics]
adjective, noun [C or U]
(having) a bluish purple colour

Do I rest at that? Is any dictionary the final say as to the meaning of a word? So I look it up in my second favourite online dictionary.

NOUN: 1. Any of a group of colors with a hue between that of violet and red. ..."

2. The hue of the short-wave end of the visible spectrum, evoked in the human observer by radiant energy with wavelengths of approximately 380 to 420 nanometers; any of a group of colors, reddish-blue in hue, that may vary in lightness and saturation."

3. The hue of that portion of the visible spectrum lying between blue and violet, evoked in the human observer by radiant energy with wavelengths of approximately 420 to 450 nanometers; a dark blue to grayish purple blue."

It would seem that this vocabulary question is not as trivial as it might first appear. So I put it to you mob. "Are indigo and violet shades of purple or does purple start where violet ends?"
Tiffany   Wed Sep 21, 2005 6:00 am GMT
I think of both indigo and violet as particular shades of color, like fuschia, magenta, sea green, on. They are what I think of as blends and hues.

Blue, yellow and red are primary shades.

Orange, purple and green are all equal mixtures of the primary colors, which I call secondary colors. They are children, so to speak, of the primaries.

So these are "basic" colors - blue, yellow, red, orange, purple, green.

A color like brown is a child of secondaries (equal parts of orange and purple, or even orange and green) and is sometimes considered basic.

Blends and hues come after this, by mixing unequal amounts of basic colors together. Both indigo and violet are blends of purple and blue, shades of both.
Brennus   Wed Sep 21, 2005 6:38 am GMT
English is what is known as an 11(eleven) primary color-term language. Spanish is also 11. Russian and Hungarian are 12 (twelve) primary color term languages. On the other hand, Eskimos is a 6 (six) primary color-term language; some languages in Africa and New Guinea use as few as just 2 (two) primary color terms (Berlin & Kay). See anything written by anthropologist Brent Berlin and linguist Paul Kay for additional information. They are considered the world's experts.

Purple is one of the primary color terms in English. Indigo and Violet are not. They are what would be called "secondary colors." Tiffany's terms "blends" and "hues" are also correct just not used in linguistics that I know of.

Berlin and Kays's studies indicate that it is only in industrialized societies that people differentiate between many colors and their hues. (Just like it is only in industrialized societies that men prefer thin women!) More primitive societies often just see a few like black, white, red, yellow and blue + green, the latter often called by just one word as in Ancient Greek 'chloros' or Japanese 'aoki'.

Below are a couple of color charts which might help visualize these colors. There are others on the internet beside these.

Tiffany: colors like orange, brown, purple, even gray and pink are considered basic or primary colors for English. This according to Berlin & Kay. The same holds true for Russian . It would not be necessarily true for a 6 color term language for example, Mandarin Chinese.
Tiffany   Wed Sep 21, 2005 7:12 am GMT
I'm speaking more from an artistic point of view. When you mix the colors for paint, you'll understand what I mean!

But it is very interesting that different cultures feel the need to differentiate different amounts of colors. I hadn't known that. (wow, I used differ a lot)
Uriel   Wed Sep 21, 2005 2:32 pm GMT
Well, for my two cents -- while I personally think of purple as a blanket shade for everything between red and blue, from what I can tell, most people think of "indigo" as a purple-tinged deep blue, "purple" as the purple at the more bluish end of the spectrum (but not as blue as indigo), and violet as a more reddish purple.

If I remember correctly, Japanese does not distinguish linguistically between blue and green -- aren't both colors "ao"?
Brennus   Wed Sep 21, 2005 5:42 pm GMT

Yes, indeed. Japanese does have the same words for "blue" and "green." It's something like ao or aoki. Ancient Greek had chloros for both colors which has obviously given us words like "chlorene, chlorophyll and chlorox (bleach)" but Modern Greek has prasinos (originally leek-colored)for "green" and blé for "blue" (probably from French).

Somali traditionally used the same word for green and blue too (owlaled)although a Somali girl recently told me they now have the word 'blu'

Irish and Scottish Gaelic always had a word for blue 'gorm' (pronounced gor-um) but they had 'glas' for 'green', 'gray', and 'gray-green.'

Spanish has a color intermediate between orange and red called 'colorado' but English speakers would just call this color "orange-red'; orangey-red" or maybe "brick red."
Uriel   Wed Sep 21, 2005 5:54 pm GMT
Hence the Colorado River (from the color of its waters) and the dish chile colorado. Now, why is red wine "tinto" in Spanish instead of "rojo"?

I guess in answer to the original question, I would consider purple and violet to be shades of purple, but indigo to be a shade of blue.
Brennus   Wed Sep 21, 2005 6:05 pm GMT

Hello again! Re: Spanish 'tinto'. I think it's one of these cases where the original word was tinto rojo ("tainted red"; red tincture?") and it was later shortened to 'tinto'.
Uriel   Wed Sep 21, 2005 6:14 pm GMT
Makes sense. "Tinted" red.
Brennus   Wed Sep 21, 2005 6:27 pm GMT

"Tinted" red. Yes. That's a better way to say it though I think that one would almost have to be a wine connoiseur to know that. Take care!

--- Brennus
Mannix   Wed Sep 21, 2005 9:32 pm GMT
I'd say that violet and indigo are different colours from purple, not different shades of purple. Violet is closer to blue than purple.
Travis   Wed Sep 21, 2005 10:03 pm GMT
To me at least, "violet" and "purple" are synonymous, whereas indigo is somewhere in between a pure violet/purple and a pure blue (in the RGB sense of "pureness").
Al   Wed Sep 21, 2005 10:09 pm GMT
''violet'' and ''purple'' are synonyms. Indigo is either a kind of violet/purple or a kind of blue.
Frances   Wed Sep 21, 2005 10:26 pm GMT
This is my personal definition when I talk about such colours:

Purple - a secondary colour in terms of paint mixing and retinal observance (a mixutre of red and blue) and encompasses all shades within that range, towards to UV spectrum of visible light (which I premsume would be anything from about 400 to 440 nm).

Indigo - a hue, a deep purple that is quite dark and closer to the UV end of spectrum of visible light.

Violet - a hue, closer to the middle of the spectrum and what I tend to think is the "typical" purple

Mauve - also lavender and lilac, like what you see in flowers and what the Royal Family tends to wear. A lighter purple, probably more so to the red end of the visible spectrum or a greater mixture of red.

Red light usually has a wavelength of about 700nm whilst Blue has one of 400-450 nm.
american nic   Wed Sep 21, 2005 10:48 pm GMT
I agree with Travis and Al, that purple and violet and basically synonymous, unless they are used to differenciate two similar purplish colors, with purple taking the place of the bluer or darker color, and violet representing a redder or lighter color. Indigo, then, is a shade of deep, purple-tinted blue, which is like a blue version of burgundy.