Why is that we never use these terms interchangeably? I.e. one wouldn't say "I've painted my walls a deep brunette".

Why is it that "brunette" and "blonde" are used exclusively in reference to hair colour yet they just mean "brown" and "yellow"?

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    Because the colour yellow is different from blond/blonde? And brunette describes a woman/girl with dark brown hair quite nicely. You also have "raven haired", "auburn" and "red-heads". More choice is more fun! – Mari-Lou A Jan 26 '14 at 9:46
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    Blonde is also used for wood – bib Jan 26 '14 at 11:58
  • Brunette actually can be used to describe any shade of brown or black. That wouldn't be a very useful word for color in general; its ridiculously unspecific. But it makes sense when you are talking about hair color in a society with a very large percentage of blondes (eg: Norman England, where these words came from). – T.E.D. Jan 26 '14 at 13:11
  • But you might say 'I've painted a beautiful brunette on my wall'! – WS2 Jan 27 '14 at 1:01

According to the OED both 'blonde' and 'brunette' are used exclusively in relation to hair colouring, occasionally extending to the complexions of the persons concerned.

The position is, I believe, much the same in French, from which both words emanate. Except that the City of Lille, Nord-Pas-de-Calais region, is home to the famous 'blonde' - a beer of distinction of the Pelforth brewery, now (perhaps sadly) owned by Heineken.

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    I was going to mention beer. But it's blond beer, and while that is the masculine form of blonde, I believe it's a Flemish word. Etymonline is interesting. – Andrew Leach Jan 26 '14 at 10:55
  • @AndrewLeach The Wiki article on 'Beer in France' is instructive and spells it 'blonde'. This is not surprising since beer is feminine in French - la bière. 'Blond' and 'blonde' are certainly French words used for hair colouring. But I am away from home and without my French dictionaries, so I must look up the etymology. – WS2 Jan 26 '14 at 11:24
  • @AndrewLeach Does this convince you about the spelling? morgenrot.co/pelforth.shtml – WS2 Jan 26 '14 at 11:34
  • @AndrewLeach I don't think it can be of Flemish origin. The OED etymology shows it to exist in the Romance languages, including medieval Latin, though the ultimate origin is unclear. No mention of it in any variety of German. – WS2 Jan 26 '14 at 11:41
  • Yes, I looked at OED; which is why I mentioned Etymonline. – Andrew Leach Jan 26 '14 at 11:44

It is useful to have words that describe the hair color of a person. And hair color is not really the same as "brown" and "yellow"-- hair has unique versions of colors. It would be useful in English to have more terms that describe hair to go with brunette (brown hair). I suggest these: noirette (black hair), rougette (red hair), jaunette (blonde hair). All are based on French words of that color.

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    We have real English words for hair-color, you know. Flaxen-haired and raven-haired and even tow-headed need pay no royalties to the French. :) – tchrist Sep 27 '14 at 22:40
  • Pay a visit to any well stocked supermarket that sells hair dye kits and you'll find "brown" is described in many ways. – Mari-Lou A Sep 28 '14 at 3:02

English derives heavily from French, and in French you have brun and blonds instead of marron and jaune (although jaune is a very crude translation). Both brunette and blond derive from French in this regard. Interestingly, we also follow French in other hair color: when someone has red or black hair, like in French, we use the term red or black to describe it. The Wikipedia page, which I cannot link to due to reputation, has a lot of useful information on the subject.

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