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English Language & Linguistics

English Language



Colour Names and Connotations

Connotations are connections between things or ideas.

If I call the colour brown “squirrel” I am hoping you will make a connection between this colour and the friendly little brown nut gatherer.

If I call that brown “sludge” you may make a connection with effluent, unprocessed waste and slime.
Brown is neutral, squirrel is positive and sludge is negative.
We can express this in a table to which you can add your own examples.

1. Cut up a colour chart from your local paint shop or choose colours from the Gotomy site and print off your own preferred colours.

2. Create a range of colours which would be attractive in their descriptions for

a. someone your age
b. someone of your parents’ age
c. a young child

For example:

your age
mad eye pink
blush pink
girly pink
blue haze
suffolk sky
pretty blue

Remember that connotations are different for different audiences so the names of the colours will have to appeal to their interests or background.

Semantic fields

3. Group the names from your colour charts into semantic fields. These are groupings in which the words have the same connections or connotations - words of the sea, words of the weather, words of spices and herbs ...

For example, The New England Company uses connotations associated with Cape Cod, clearly relying on the blue-grey sky and grey-green sea for their inspiration.

Their first set of ten colours in pale yellow, blue grey and blue-green (impossible to match here with web colours) are described as:

sea breeze independence cape cod harbor picket fence
cheesecake main street windswept seafoam vineyard

All these have associations with the sea, the coastal wind, (and an area nearby known as Martha’s Vineyard).
The New England Company’s second set of colours is warmer with yellows, oranges and reds. Names relate to the ocean but also autumn and the later part of the year:

fish bone
harvest moon
cobble stone
rich barley
maple leaf
autumn leaf

In contrast, the Craig and Rose catalogue emphasises the age associated with the colours. It divides its colours into Ancient World, Ming Period, Renaissance, Rococo, Georgian & Regency, Victorian and Arts & Crafts.
Its descriptions, supplementing the names recall the romance or exoticism of the period:

Beauvais Cream – a rich cream typically found in the tapestries woven by the Beauvais workshop in France
Jasper Cane – a classic yellow found on the Pate sur Pate relief earthenware. Made at their factory in Etruria ….
Sung Yellow – characteristic yellow found in silk woven in China during the Sung period (960-1279).
Kings Yellow – a yellow which was widely used in Italy on religious artefacts and paintings, such as El Greco, “Adoration of the name of Jesus.”

These colours are, of course, simply colours in the almost infinite range of pigments available, and may be similar or even identical to colours identified by other manufacturers.

4. Here are colours which seem to be roughly similar but have been given different names.
• What differences are there in the connotations of each name?
• What is the manufacturer trying to achieve by naming colours in this way?

Craig & Rose
Laura Ashley
Kings yellow
Deep cowslip
Putting green
Tapestry green
pink peony
Venetian lagoon

5. Some of the words may be unfamiliar to you.
Use a dictionary and other reference sources to find the meaning of the following words:

Pale Medici blue (Craig & Rose)
Moonstone grey (Craig & Rose)
Smalt (Craig & Rose)
Pompadour (Craig & Rose)
Etruscan red (Craig & Rose)
Pugin red (Dulux Heritage)
Montpelier green (Dulux Heritage)
Sienna white (Dulux Heritage)
Tuscan Terracotta (Dulux)
Zest (Homebase)
Pecan (Homebase)
Lapis blue (Homebase)
Magnolia (Homebase)

6. Look at your colour charts.
Which names convey…


• What do these words mean?
• How do they convey connotations to customers?
• What are they trying to sell to the customers?


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