19 Colors You’ve Probably Never Heard Of

iStock.com/terrababy
iStock.com/terrababy

Most of the basic English names for colors—like red, yellow, and green—are among the oldest recorded words in our language and can be traced right back to the Old English period. One exception to that rule is the color orange, which didn’t begin to appear in the language until after oranges (the fruit) were imported into Britain from Europe in the Middle Ages. Before then, what we would describe as orange today had just to be called either red or yellow (or, if you wanted to be really specific, red-yellow). But the English language being as enormous as it is, a predictably vast vocabulary of words have been invented, borrowed, and accumulated over the centuries to describe almost every color and shade imaginable—from the precise color of a bear’s ears to the murky green of goose droppings. 19 brilliantly named examples of colors you’ve probably never heard of are listed here.

1. Australien

Pinnacles desert in Australia
iStock.com/vanbeets

The 1897 guide House Decoration includes, in a chapter dedicated to mixing oil paints, “a list of new colors for ladies’ dresses,” among which is listed australien. Inspired by the rusty color of the rocks and deserts of the Australian outback, the name australien was used by dressmakers and fashion houses in late Victorian England for a deep orange color.

2. Banan

A bunch of bananas on a wooden background
iStock.com/sergio_kumer

The color of a ripe banana? That’s banan.

3. Bastard-Amber

A square of light amber
Rebecca O'Connell

Bastard-amber is the name of an amber-colored spotlight used in theaters to produce a warm peach or pink glow on stage. It’s often used to recreate sunlight, or to give the illusion of dawn or dusk.

4. Drake’s-Neck

Two mallard ducks
iStock.com/taviphoto

The drake in question here is the male mallard, a species of duck found across North America, Europe, and Asia. The males have an iridescent bottle-green head and neck, which gave its name to a rich green-colored dye called drake’s-neck in the early 18th century.

5. Drunk-Tank Pink

A square of pink
Rebecca O'Connell

Drunk-tank is the name of a bright shade of pink that has been the subject of a number of studies on the effects of colors on human temperament. This particular color—also known as Baker-Miller pink, after the two U.S. Navy officers who invented it—has been demonstrated in numerous experiments to have a calming influence, and so is often used in prisons and police holding cells to help keep inmates relaxed and to discourage unruly behavior.

6. Falu

Falun is a small city in Sweden renowned for its copper mining industry. Since the mid-16th century (at least), many of the wooden homes, barns, outhouses and other buildings in and around Falun have been traditionally painted a deep rust-red color known as falu that is manufactured from the iron-rich waste materials left over from the mines.

7. Flame-of-Burnt-Brandy

A burning cocktail
iStock.com/Santiaga

As the dyeing industry developed in the 19th century and was able to produce more and more colors, dressmakers and designers were left to concoct a whole range of weird and wonderful names for the new hues at their disposal. Flame-of-burnt-brandy was just one of them, described in 1821 by one ladies’ magazine as a mixture of “lavender grey, pale yellow, and dark lilac.” Other equally evocative names dating from the same period include dragon’s blood (a deep purplish-red), d’oreille d’ours (a rich brown, literally “bear’s ears”), elephant’s breath (steel gray) and flamme de Vesuve ("the flame of Vesuvius," or the color of lava).

8. Gingerline

A bunch of kumquats
iStock.com/HarmKruyshaar

Not just another word for anything ginger-colored, gingerline is often said to be a reddish-violet or reddish-brown color. However, by other accounts it describes a rich orange-yellow. According to one description, it refers very precisely to the color of ripe kumquats.

9. Incarnadine

A square of of dark red-brown
Rebecca O'Connell

Incarnadine is an etymological cousin of the adjective "incarnate," meaning “having bodily form.” In this sense it literally means flesh-colored, but Shakespeare used it to mean blood-red in Macbeth, and nowadays it’s usually used to refer to a rich crimson or dark-red color.

10. Labrador

A square of light gray-blue
Rebecca O'Connell

Not, as you might think, the color of a Labrador dog, labrador is actually a shade of blue that takes its name from the mineral labradorite, a blueish form of feldspar.

11. Lusty Gallant

A pale peach-pink rose
iStock.com/Tippapatt

Lusty gallant was originally the name of a dance popular in Tudor England, but somehow, in the late 1500s its name became attached to a pale shade of red, similar to coral pink. Quite how or why this happened is unclear, but according to the Elizabethan writer William Harrison, dressmakers at the time had a habit of giving increasingly bizarre names to the colors of their clothes in the hope of making them more appealing to buyers. In his Description of England, written in 1577, Harrison lists the names of several “hues devised to please fantastical heads,” including “gooseturd green, pease-porridge tawny, popinjay blue, lusty-gallant, [and] the-devil-in-the-head.”

12. Nattier

Jean-Marc Nattier, The Comtesse de Tillières
Jean-Marc Nattier, The Comtesse de Tillières
Wikimedia Commons // Public Domain

Jean-Marc Nattier (1685-1766) was a French Rococo artist known for a series of portraits of women from the court of Louis XV of France depicted as characters from Greek mythology. Despite achieving enormous popularity during his lifetime—his contemporaries thought his work so exquisite that they even accused him of painting with makeup rather than paint—Nattier is relatively little-known today, but he lives on in the name of a deep shade of slate-blue that he used in a number of his paintings, most notably a portrait of The Comtesse de Tillières (1750), nicknamed “The Lady in Blue.”

13. Pervenche

A square of blue
Rebecca O'Connell

Pervenche is the French word for periwinkle, which came to be used in English in the 19th century as another name for the rich purplish-blue color of periwinkle flowers.

14. Puke

Brown woolen socks
iStock.com/Coprid

Fortunately, when William Shakespeare wrote of a "puke-stocking" in Henry IV: Part 1, he didn’t mean anything having to do with vomit. In 16th century England, puke was the name of a high quality woolen fabric, which was typically a dull, dark brown color.

15. Sang-De-Boeuf

A square of oxblood
Rebecca O'Connell

Unsurprisingly sang-de-boeuf, or “oxblood,” is the name of a rich shade of red that was originally a blood-colored pottery glaze made with copper. Although the name sang-de-boeuf dates back no further than the late 19th century, the technique used to manufacture oxblood glazes was first developed possibly as far back as the 1200s in China.

16. Sinoper

A square of deep orange
Rebecca O'Connell

Popular among Renaissance artists, sinoper or sinople was an artist’s pigment containing particles of hematite, an iron-rich mineral that gave it a rich rust-red color. Its name comes from the town of Sinop on the Black Sea coast of Turkey, from where it was first imported into Europe in the late Middle Ages.

17. Verditer

A square of bright mint green
Rebecca O'Connell

Verditer is both an old fashioned name for verdigris, the green rust-like discoloration of copper and brass, and the name of a blue-green pigment dating from the 1500s. Its name, which is derived from the French verte-de-terre, or "green of the earth," is today used in the name of a bright turquoise songbird, the verditer flycatcher, which is native to the Himalayas.

18. Watchet


Watchet is a very pale blue color, similar to sky blue. According to folk etymology, the color takes its name from the town of Watchet on the coast of Somerset in southwest England, the cliffs around which appear pale blue because they are rich in alabaster. As neat a story as this is, however, it’s much more likely that watchet is really derived from waiss, an old Belgian-French word for royal blue.

19. Zaffre

A square of deep cobalt blue
Rebecca O'Connell

Zaffre is the name of an ancient blue pigment originally produced by burning ores of cobalt in a furnace. Its name was borrowed into English from the Italian zaffera in the 17th century, and is ultimately descended from the Latin word for “sapphire.”

A version of this story first ran in 2014.

23 Notoriously Unrhymable Words (That Actually Have Rhymes)

iStock.com/MeXaHuK
iStock.com/MeXaHuK

You’ll no doubt have heard the old fact that nothing rhymes with orange. But in fact, the English surname Gorringe—as in Henry Honeychurch Gorringe, captain of the USS Gettysburg—rhymes with orange. And so does Blorenge, the name of a hill in south Wales. But even if proper nouns like surnames and place names are excluded, that still leaves sporange, an obscure name for the sporangium, which is the part of a plant that produces its spores. So although it might all depend on your accent, on how obscure a word you’re willing to accept, and on precisely where the stress falls in the word (because sporange can either rhyme with orange or be pronounced “spuh-ranj”), it seems there actually is a rhyme for orange.

In fact, despite often finding their way onto lists of notoriously unrhymable words, all of the words listed here do have rhymes in English—just so long as bizarre dialect words and obscure scientific jargon are allowed.

1. Acrid rhymes with epacrid (in some pronunciations), a name for any plant of the genus Epacris, most of which are found in Australia.

2. Angst partially rhymes with both phalanxed, meaning “arranged in rows,” and thanksed, an old word meaning “given thanks to.”

3. Beige is pronounced so that it sounds more like the first syllable of Asia than it does similarly spelled words like age, gauge, stage, and rage. But that doesn’t mean it’s devoid of a rhyme; there’s also greige, the name for the dull color of undyed fabric.

4. Bulb rhymes with culb, an obscure 17th century word for a retort or a barbed reply.

5. Chaos rhymes with naos, a name for the innermost part of a Greek temple, and speos, an Egyptian tomb built into a cave.

6. Circle rhymes with hurkle, an old dialect word meaning “to pull your arms and legs in towards your body,” as well as both heterocercal and homocercal, two zoological terms describing the tails of fish that are either asymmetrical or symmetrical, respectively.

7. Circus has a homophone, cercus, which is the name of a bodily appendage found on certain insects, and so rhymes with cysticercus, another name for a tapeworm larva. If that’s too obscure, why not try rhyming it with murcous—a 17th century word meaning “lacking a thumb.”

8. Concierge is a direct borrowing from French, so the number of English words it can rhyme with is already limited. But there is demi-vierge, another French loanword used as an old-fashioned name for a unchaste young woman—or, as Merriam-Webster explains, “a girl … who engages in lewd or suggestive speech and usually promiscuous petting but retains her virginity.” It literally means “half-virgin.”

9. Dunce rhymes with punce, a dialect word for flattened, pounded meat, or for a sudden hard kick, among other definitions.

10. False rhymes with valse, which is an alternative name for a waltz, according to the Oxford English Dictionary.

11. Film rhymes with pilm, an old southern English word for dust or fine powder.

12. Filth rhymes with both spilth, which is the quantity lost when a drink is spilled (or the spilling itself), and tilth, meaning hard work or labor.

13. Gouge rhymes with scrouge, which means “to crowd or crush together.” In 19th century college slang, a scrouge was also a long, dull, or arduous lesson or piece of work.

14. Gulf rhymes with both sulf, which is another name for toadflax plants, and culf, an old southwest English word for the loose feathers that come out of pillows and cushions.

15. Music rhymes with both ageusic and dysgeusia, both of which are medical words describing a total lack of or minor malfunction in a person’s sense of taste, respectively.

16. Purple rhymes with hirple, meaning “to limp” or “walk awkwardly,” and curple, an old Scots word for a leather strap that goes beneath the tail of a horse to secure its saddle (it also more broadly means "buttocks").

17. Replenish rhymes with both displenish, which means “to remove furniture,” and Rhenish, meaning “relating to the river Rhine.”

18. Rhythm rhymes with the English place name Lytham as well as smitham, an old word for fine malt dust or powdered lead ore.

19. Silver, after purple and orange, is the third of three English colors supposedly without rhymes. But there is chilver, an old dialect word for a ewe lamb.

20. Wasp rhymes with both cosp, a hasp for fastening a door or gate, and knosp, an architectural ornament resembling the bud of a tree.

21. Width rhymes with sidth, an English dialect word variously used for the length, depth, or breadth of something—or literally the length of one side.

22. Window rhymes with tamarindo, a Spanish-American drink made of boiled and sweetened tamarind fruit.

23. Women rhymes with both timon, an old word for the rudder of a ship, and dimmen, meaning “to grow dim” or “to set like the sun.” Woman, however, has no rhyme at all. (Apparently.)

A version of this list first ran in 2015.

100 Words Turning 100 This Year

YouTube
YouTube

In 1919, just a few months after World War I came to an end, the phrase World War 2 made its debut. The Oxford English Dictionary described it as "a reference to an imagined future war arising out of the social upheaval consequent upon the First World War." Twenty years later, the event wouldn't seem so imaginary.

Join editor-in-chief Erin McCarthy as she journeys into the past to dig up a whopping 100 words that are turning 100 this year in our all-new Mental Floss List Show. Whip out your OED and read along as you check out the full episode below.

For more episodes like this one, be sure to subscribe here!

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