the blues

victor steinbok aardvark66 at GMAIL.COM
Sun Sep 4 08:53:17 UTC 2011

I am curious about the organization of some articles in the OED. Some things
that can or should be connected appear in distinct articles; others that
have very little to do with each other appear together. The worst cases are
when A and B are not closely related, but B and C are, yet B appears as one
of the entries under A, and C appears completely separately. I can never
tell if these are oversights or deliberate decisions (and, if they are
deliberate, why). At least on some occasions, this appears to be an
afterthought--that is, a new lemma is written and appended to an article,
completely ignoring another article that may be more closely related. Nor is
there much consistency among derivatives--some are restricted to
"Derivatives" additions following main entries, others are given independent

In case I am completely messing up the nomenclature--I am using article as
the entire text that goes with a particular head, entries sometime mean the
same thing (when the distinction is unnecessary) but more often apply to the
numbered lemmas. Sub-entry are the lemmas that are tagged with literals
rather than numerals. Whatever... If I am screwing up the jargon, feel free
to correct me.

Now, for the blues.

Blues, as music, has a separate article. "The blues" as depression is blue
n. 12. ("depression of spirits, despondency. colloq.") "Blue note", which is
clearly connected to blues in its definition appears, unsurprisingly, under
blue adj. 3.d. Neither Blues nor blue note are formally connected to "the
blues" in OED definitions.

My impression has always been that blues (and "the blues") as music was a
direct derivative (however creative) from the blues as depression. Perhaps I
am wrong, perhaps I underestimate the separation between the two or the
significance of blues as a distinct category (seems to be equally
metaphorical in both senses). But the OED defines it as "A melody of a
_mournful_and_haunting_ character", etc. That seems to be pretty closely
connected. Am I missing something or are the editors missing something?

Another issue is the very definition of blue n. 1.

 1. Blue colour. (It may have a plural.)

The way I am thinking, when someone refers to "[the] blues" as color, they
are not thinking of a particular blue color but of a variety of hues that
can all be described as "blue". So when someone refers to "blues" and
"greens" and "reds" and "yellows" and "browns" and "grays", these plurals do
not represent a single color, but a cluster of colors that have some similar
central "element", but are really all different colors. Other colors, such
as orange, maroon, magenta, cyan, teal, sage, ochre, etc., are virtually
never used in plural in a similar manner because they are defined much more
narrowly. There is unconscious distinction--in English, certainly, but also
likely in most Eurorpean languages--that distinguishes between the common
color bands (e.g., rainbow colors) and individual, narrowly defined colors.
Some end up on the cusp--e.g., violet, purple. Orange and violet are two of
the rainbow colors that rarely take plural. English also does not formally
distinguish between the light and the intense blues--unlike other European
languages (e.g., Russian) that have these two as separate rainbow colors.
But that only reinforces the idea that "blue" refers to a "color" and
"blues" refers to multiple hues of "blue".

So my question is, is this definition correct?


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