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I was just wondering if there is a word for having the colors in the same order as the rainbow (red, orange, yellow, green, blue, purple)? (Like when words are in the order of the alphabet we say they are alphabetical.) Rainbelical?!

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    A reasonable answer would be "spectral order" though that is not a set-phrase or defined term for "colors in the order of the rainbow," the phrase is also a defined term in other related fields including math and quantum theory. Use case: "In case you don’t know ROYGBIV, it is the clever acronym for the spectral order of color in the rainbow ..." thelandofcolor thelandofcolor.com/full-spectrum-paint-colors
    – Kris
    Commented Feb 4, 2015 at 7:01
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    @Kris - 'spectral order' sounds so...ghostly!!
    – user66974
    Commented Feb 4, 2015 at 7:42
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    @Kris, that's definitely worth recording in an answer.
    – Dan Bron
    Commented Feb 4, 2015 at 9:28
  • @Josh61 Not "sound so," it is ghostly in a different context. Words can have multiple meanings, even antonym pairs! So what :)
    – Kris
    Commented Feb 4, 2015 at 11:52
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    In view of the wave characteristic of light, which actually accounts for the separation of colors by either prism or water droplets, one could use wavelength order for violet to red, or frequency order for red to violet. Table of relevant values in nm and THz available here. Commented Feb 4, 2015 at 13:46

8 Answers 8

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They are generally referred to as the spectrum of rainbow colours:

  • Rainbows span a continuous spectrum of colours. Any distinct bands perceived are an artefact of human colour vision, and no banding of any type is seen in a black-and-white photo of a rainbow, only a smooth gradation of intensity to a maximum, then fading towards the other side.

  • For colours seen by the human eye, the most commonly cited and remembered sequence is Newton's sevenfold red, orange, yellow, green, blue, indigo and violet, remembered by the mnemonic, Richard Of York Gave Battle In Vain.

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While working in a department store that merchandises clothing based on the rainbow sequence we would say, "Don't forget to 'Roy-Gee-Biv' them."

If you want to avoid using it as a verb, "Put these items in Roy-Gee-Biv," perhaps adding the word sequence at the end to clarify.

ROYGBIV might not be appropriate in formal writing, but it gets the idea across. If unfamiliar with the mnemonic, it's quick and easy to explain in conversation.

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  • Not sure what the advantage of this is over rainbow which is quicker to say and more widely understood.
    – Stuart F
    Commented May 9, 2022 at 15:07
  • The advantage is that “rainbow” doesn’t tell you the order of the colors so it’s only helpful if you happen to already know them! Sorry if that wasn’t clear.
    – Preston
    Commented May 9, 2022 at 17:38
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Short answer

  • for the red-violet direction, frequential or frequentially ordered
  • for the violet-red direction, antifrequential, antifrequentially ordered, or wavelength-ordered
  • for both directions: potentially spectral, spectrally ordered, or hue-ordered, although that last one is a little more ambiguous depending on whether you consider using blends of red and violet to transition between them appropriate for rainbow ordering

Long answer

In English, we have more or less eleven color terms that we would consider other colors to be instances of: 'black', 'white', 'red', 'green', 'yellow', 'blue', 'brown', 'orange', 'pink', 'purple', and 'grey'. These colors are somewhat arbitrary, but there is a tendency among languages to prioritize certain color groupings. This is related to couple of other influences as well (that I'm not qualified to speak of), but one big factor is that the majority of people's eyes rely on three different types of color receptor to pick up color.

enter image description here

Now, colloquially we often draw rainbows with a near-subset of those, but if we want to talk about the actual colors of the rainbow, they are continuous and infinite in number. Rainbows aren't composed of just any colors, though- no brown!- they approximate with some success what are known as spectral colors.

These are the colors you get if you shine a narrow laser into a prism- they are comprised for the most part of a narrow range of pure colors (the light is of a small range of wavelengths). The primary thing that distinguishes them is the constituent wavelength of light.

Now, rainbows aren't composed of spectral colors (water shenanigans), but it's close enough that we associate the colors. In the context of colors more broadly, we consider colors to be more "colorful" the closer they are to being pure- in color spaces this is known as saturation, and the dominant light frequency is known as color hue.

enter image description here In the above diagram, you can see that the spectral colors are along the edge, with different wavelengths of light demarcated.

This is also why purple is only sometimes included when we talk about rainbow colors- the color traditionally most strongly associated with the word "purple" has a clear (cyclic, at least) ordering when we talk about hue, but shades of purple are as a rule less saturated than the color associated with "violet" (the bottom line of that color spectrum is even known as the "line of purple"), and so make less sense to talk about when we are talking about /actual rainbows/.

Anyway, long story short: rainbow color ordering is mostly decided by frequency (or wavelength; frequency = 1/wavelength) and so they provide appropriate terms.

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    Thanks for mentioning that colors like brown and pink and purple aren't actually spectral colors, since they cannot be represented with any single spectral frequency of light. Spectral violet, the last color of the rainbow if you start from the red end, cannot even be generated on an RGB computer monitor (or TV set, etc). But fortunately, thanks to metamerism the RGB monitor plays games with RGB mixes to generate a tristimulus response whose color your mind does not distinguish from actual monospectral violet.
    – tchrist
    Commented May 7, 2022 at 3:02
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it is rainbowlike.

example sentences:

Arrange the cupcakes in rows sorted by colour to create a beautiful, rainbow-like display.

There was a rainbow-like display of colour on the catwalk for the season, from tomato reds to neon oranges and electric blues.

The packaging will have a see-through lid, so that you can see what color you're getting - and so that retailers can create attractive, rainbow-like displays.

please see:

http://www.thesaurus.com/browse/rainbowlike

https://www.google.com/search?q=rainbowlike&oq=rainbowlike&aqs=chrome..69i57.5270147j0j7&sourceid=chrome&es_sm=122&ie=UTF-8

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One answer is spectral colors: the visible monochromatic colors produced by prismatically splitting white light into every possible hue from red to violet.¹

If you are especially courageous, you might try something based after Iris, the Greek goddess of the rainbow. Such words include such adjectives as iridaceous, iridal, irideous, iridescent, iridial, iridian, iridic, iridical.

Now, this might be tough, especially when some of those more commonly mean something else, but with the right set up it could possibly be made to work.


  1. There is no purple, though. :)
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Would prismatic order work? I was wondering the same question after I just organized the Gatorades in my refrigerator.

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Why, rainbowical, of course.

Like it is called in this pinterest image:

enter image description here

Rainbow Toy Car Installation Made from 2,500 Cars
Ultimate source of the image: flickr.com / David T Waller


There are some other examples where rainbowical is used. For example:

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What about chromological? A student of mine suggested this when we were studying Greek/Latin roots.

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    Welcome to ELU. This is a good suggestion: to be a good answer, you should explain its Greek roots (and maybe mention analogy with chronological).
    – Andrew Leach
    Commented May 5, 2022 at 12:39
  • Hello, liz. This would be fine if you could provide proof of wordness. Answers lacking reputable backing come across as (and may be no more than) mere opinion. ELU looks at accepted usage, and D-I-Y candidates, not reported as having a reasonable currency by inclusion in a standard dictionary, are off-topic. Even when the usual 'rules for correctly forming a new word' from classical roots are followed, it must be remembered that these processes are not obligatorily productive. 'Teloptiky' lost out to the mongrel 'television', for instance. Commented May 5, 2022 at 15:28

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