I have observed several people over the years refer to something that is orange in color as "yellow". Is that some linguistic difference or a difference in perception?

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    A close friend of mine does not recognize orange as a distinct color, and will refer to anything I'd call orange as either red or yellow. (I haven't figured out if this is a difference in how he sees things or some quirk in how he learned the words when he was young.) – Henry Nov 28 '10 at 19:06
  • @Henry: Perhaps he has a variety of color-blindness. – Robusto Nov 28 '10 at 21:04
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    I fume every time I see one of these thoroughly mislabelled trucks, even though the name was established long before the colour (swamp holly orange) was decided in a legibility study: productionmachining.com/cdn/cms/YellowTruck.jpg – Jon Purdy Nov 29 '10 at 9:15
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    I have seen orange referred as a red in Requiem for a dream movie! :) – Srinivas Reddy Thatiparthy Nov 29 '10 at 10:35
  • There's quite a good article on this subject here... worldwidewords.org/articles/colour.htm – Brian Hooper Nov 29 '10 at 13:11

Orange is one of the newest colors, in that in most languages, it was still considered merely a shade of a different color (red or yellow) up until recently[1]. My favorite example of this is the pigment red lead, which isn't red at all, but bright, almost-neon "construction orange". And of course the hair color of most redheads isn't red either.

I don't have any similar examples for orange=yellow, at least not in English[2], but I could totally conceive of someone describing, say, a leaf as yellow, even if technically its color fell closer to the orange spectrum than to strict yellow.

[1] In English, early 16th century. The color was named for the fruit.
[2] The Hungarian word for a carrot is "sárgarépa" = yellow beet.

  • Interestingly, also in this vein, is that the Japanese commonly use a single word, aoi (青い) to cover both blue and green. There does exist a separate word for green, "midori" (緑), but the boundaries between what is blue or green are not the same as they are for Westerners. – Robusto Nov 28 '10 at 21:20
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    also interesting that in russian, light blue, "goluboi", is considered a distinct color. if you show a russian a dark blue and a light blue patch, they will call one blue and the other light blue, saying they are different colors – Claudiu Nov 28 '10 at 22:52
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    I don't know if the Hungarian word for carrot counts as an example of an orange thing being called yellow. Carrots weren't necessarily orange until the Dutch started breeding them that way for patriotic reasons in the 17th century: en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Carrot#Cultivars – Rahul Nov 28 '10 at 23:35
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    BTW, there are many 'new' colors today in English. I still have no idea what color 'taupe' is. – bev Nov 29 '10 at 1:52
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    There are tons of fascinating research in that area, Martha. To name but a few most recent experiments, see e.g. the xkcd color survey results, the results of this Mechanical Turk experiment, or this ongoing multilingual color-naming experiment in which you can actually participate right now. – RegDwigнt Nov 29 '10 at 21:14

It can certainly be a difference in perception. My wife is mildly color-blind, and we sometimes describe the same item with different color words because we perceive it differently.

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