Chronology of the breakup of Common Romance [long]

X99Lynx at X99Lynx at
Mon Aug 16 05:33:49 UTC 1999

In a message dated 8/13/99 4:16:39 AM, BMScott at wrote:

<<Cleasby & Vigfusson gloss <blámadr> (<bla'madhr>) 'a black man, negro,
i.e., an Ethiopian';... The adjective <blár> (<bla'r>) is 'dark blue, livid',
with uses ranging into 'black'.>>

Well of course -madr, -madhr are very recognizable as not referring to men or
madness but to a red/brown dye, for a long time quite popular among the
Scandinavians - (from Rubia tinctorium or Gallium boreale) and of course
bla'- might as well be black or white as blue.  One would otherwise think
perhaps of "Blackmoor."

The basic problem with colors in the old tongues is that they often don't
make any sense in our world.  A very good example of semantics that just
won't stay put long enough to be semantical.

To help confuse things more, here's two entries from the original OED:

"1225 Ancr. R. 234 - Blac as a bloamon."

"1152 Erfurt Glossary "blata , pigmentum: haui-b:auum"...
blo(')wa,... perhaps cognate with L. flavus - yellow"

And from the Old Norse list last year:
<<Móraudur (mooraudhr, moradhr) refers to the color of Icelandic
peat. It is not certain that anybody else would
call this "red".>>

One explanation for all of this is that ancient peoples would use the color
names for pigments irrespective of "color" or even contrary to how these
matched with other pigments or natural colors - which often end up being not
what we think of as colors at all.  Here's a part of a post on Celtic colors
from before this list had archives:

<<Modern Celtic languages have often perplexed learners trying to
grasp when to use various color terms.  Irish has "uaine" and
"glas", which can both be translated as "green".  "Uaine" is
generally understood to refer to "vivid green" and often to
items that are brightly painted or dyed.  "Glas" is used for
foliage and softer greens, but also for various shades of grey,
from sheep to steel.  There seems to be a semantic undercurrent
here: that "glas" refers to the natural colors of things while
"uaine" refers to artificial coloring.>>

Dennis King In a message dated 11/22/98 3:07:37 PM...

In the same thread I recall one post which insisted that we can certainly
identify some ancient colors just from common expertise, e.g., blood is
always red.  To which the next post replied, 'except in Homer, where blood is
always black."

My suspicion is that in the old days, people did not match colors but things
- among which natural color or dyes might or might not be the common element.
 How else could we explain the form 'blake' turning
up in the old text to mean both black and white?

Steve Long

More information about the Indo-european mailing list