Video Fix: Can you see a colour if you don’t have a word for it?


Blue is one of the most common colours. We have it on the rainbow; the sea is blue and also the sky. Picasso had a “Blue Period” when he painted using different shades of blue and because I’m Romanian I couldn’t help thinking of a certain blue; a shade of greenish blue used to paint a famous church and that’s is why we call it, Voronet blue.

According to Wikipedia, Blue is the colour between violet and green on the optical spectrum of visible light. The human eye perceives blue when observing light with a wavelength between 450 and 495 nanometres.

It seems too common to even write something about it, but did you know that blue was the last colour to be added to the colour spectrum? That happened because we didn’t have a word to name the colour.


Researchers found out that until modern times poets and writers omitted to use blue when describing things that are blue, like the sea for example. In Ancient Greek, Homer described the sea as “wine-dark” and in other languages the colour blue was absent. The first one to notice the absence of blue in the literature was William Gladstone who later becomes the prime-minister of Britain. He actually counted how many times Homer used each colour in this masterpiece. It turns out that black is mentioned about 200 times and white about 100, but the other colours are mentioned less, like red which is present in Odyssey only 15 times.

After Gladstone, Lazarus Geiger turned to other languages and other writings (such as Icelandic sagas, the Koran, ancient Chinese stories, and an ancient Hebrew version of the Bible) and indeed he found out that blue was not mentioned in any of them.

The Egyptians were the ones to first introduce blue as a word and they were the first who had blue dye to colour their fabrics.

Recent studies discovered that the link between the existence of a colour and the word is real, so people could not see the colour blue without having a name for it. Researchers went even further and found out that languages such as Spanish have just one word for blue so the Spanish speakers find it harder to point out different shades of blue.


Social media is filled with the jokes about colours and the differences between how many names women have for a colour and how many men do have.

“Colour makes the product stand out” says Google who was involved in a study to determine which colour attracted more customers and how people associate certain colours with certain brands. A lot of thought has been given to the research of colours and it all started with a word: blue


Written by Raluca Caranfil

Communication Trainee at TermCoord
Journalist & Student at the University of Luxembourg