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I am looking to describe a flower such as the one in the following picture for a game:

Violet Flower

After showing the game to a number of beta testers, I noted that about half of them were fine with "violet" while the other half seemed confused by the term and insisted it was "purple".

After doing some research, it turns out that the definitions for these terms are (roughly):

  • Purple: "A color between red and blue"
  • Violet: "Light with a wavelength between 380nm and 450nm"

Those definitions overlap. It seems to me (subjectively) that Australians and British are in favor of the term "Purple" while US Americans prefer "Violet". However I was unable to find any statistical proof or study on the subject.

Question: What is the adequate word to describe the flower above to the majority of native English speakers?

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Purple has got many different shades, while violet is a bluish purple. That's why I'd describe this flower as violet. I'm not sure however whether all native speakers would agree. –  Irene Jun 19 '12 at 8:37
    
From what little Crayola-based knowledge I've retained, I'd agree with Irene that Violet is a bluer hue. –  shinyspoongod Jun 19 '12 at 9:02
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actually, they don't overlap at all. Purple is not a color between red (~700nm) and blue(~450nm) - yellow (~570nm) is. Purple is a mix of red and blue, which omits yellow, green, orange etc. OTOH violet may be perceived as closer to red, but is a color all by itself, in the range you gave. –  SF. Jun 19 '12 at 10:22
    
My impression is that in popular usage in America, purple is a basic color used to describe all colors between red and blue. Violet is used for a range of shades of purple closer to the blue end of the range. Think blue and ultramarine. In fact, this matches your dictionary definitions, since the reddish end of the purples don't correspond to any single wavelengths of light. –  Peter Shor Jun 19 '12 at 11:31
    
@PeterShor: Yellow is a spectral color lying between red and blue; so is green, and orange, and nearly everything else. Violet, on the other hand, is a shorter spectral frequency than blue. Violet lies between blue and ultraviolet on the spectrum. And purple isn’t a spectral color at all, but rather an admixture of red and blue. One can use red and blue light together to create a metameric match for spectral violet. –  tchrist Jun 19 '12 at 11:37
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1 Answer

up vote 3 down vote accepted

Here in the U.S., I think most speakers would almost always use purple.

Why? For one, there is a flower called a violet, so folks are less likely to describe a different flower as violet. The Ngram below supports my claim:

enter image description here

For another, when describing just about any object of that color, I think most people (except perhaps physicists) use purple in conversation, rather than violet (although the it's not like the latter is never used).

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Photographers know the difference between purple and violet. There is no purple in a rainbow, only violet. –  tchrist Jun 19 '12 at 11:42
    
+1 for the potential confusing surrounding 'violet' as a flower and a colour. If you showed them a different object with the same colour I suspect your results would be different. –  Nomic Jan 28 at 1:10
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