Saturday, February 14, 2009


The inevitable has occurred. My current obsession with color has collided with my lifelong passion for words. Try to get to sleep after that accident!

Much more than Finlay does, Ball drops bits of information about the words by which we refer to colors. Both bemoan the incredibly complicated linguistic history of "red"; and that being my favorite color, more about that will undoubtedly appear at some point in this blog.

However, last night the nugget concerned "ultramarine". All my life, well, anyway since I learned the word, it has meant blue; dictionaries concur: bright deep blue. And, for me, that's always been it. Red is red, black, black, blue, blue, and ultramarine, a blue special enough to have its own name. "Deep blue"? As in deep (ultra) blue sea (marine)? But of course. If I ever thought about it, that's likely the association I would have made, and perhaps others as well. (I'm in danger here of teaching my grandmother to suck eggs, for which the punishment should be death.)

I am however, teaching myself to suck eggs! I've studied both Latin and Greek and have always been able to call upon those languages to decipher unknown words I come across. Where in hell were they whenever I've used the word "ultramarine"?

The color of the sea is not germane here. These are Ball's words that kicked me in the cortex last night:

Lapis lazuli is found primarily in the East. . . . Its use in the West did not become widespread until the fourteenth century. The name reflects the pigment's status as a long distance import: in 1464 the Italian A. A. Filarete wrote in Trattato dell'artchitettura that "fine blue is derived from a stone and comes from across the sea and so is called ultramarine."

I knew that! NOT! Though I do know that the pure Latin word "ultra" translates to beyond, on the far side of. As in, "beyond the sea". Sometimes the synapses simply take forever to establish a connection -- ummm, something like broadband in Vermont.

AND, a footnote here to mention a new page attached to this blog: because once posts roll off the first page, they are rarely accessed by readers. Which means, books I've mentioned fall off the edge. I've added a link (top right) to the White River Book List. All books mentioned here, and some from my former blogs, will be kept there with my annotations.

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