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Old 20th November 2019, 12:00 AM   #1
Puppycow
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What color are green traffic lights really?

Specifically, the light we call "green" which indicates "go".

Did you know that in Japan, they call that light ao (青), which translates as blue? The actual traffic lights in Japan don't seem to be much bluer than those in America though. I discovered this odd difference one day when I was in the car with my Japanese wife, when I didn't notice that the light had change, and she said "it turned blue," which had me nonplussed. (And some countries call the yellow light amber.)

Seems that a more accurate description might actually be cyan, but people don't use the word cyan very often.

According to this:
https://archive.education.mrsec.wisc...ht/spectra.htm

The peak wavelength for a green traffic signal light (LED) is 500 nm.

According to Wikipedia, green wavelengths are from 495–570 nm while blue wavelengths are from 450–495 nm. So that would put it in the green range, but very close to the blue end of green. Meanwhile, the range for cyan is given as 490–520 nm, which overlaps both green and blue, and 500 nm is pretty close to the middle of that range.

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Cyan
https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Green
https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Blue

If you know about how most printers make their colors, the colors they use are actually cyan, magenta, yellow and black (not red green and blue)

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/CMYK_color_model

But other than that, in everyday language, nobody ever seems to use the word "cyan," do they?
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Old 20th November 2019, 12:11 AM   #2
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I use the word cyan fairly often in my job.

My job is in IT, so I deal with printers a lot. I also use the words magenta, yellow and black fairly often.
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Old 20th November 2019, 04:31 AM   #3
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Originally Posted by arthwollipot View Post
I use the word cyan fairly often in my job.

My job is in IT, so I deal with printers a lot. I also use the words magenta, yellow and black fairly often.
Along with "there is no bloody paper jam you piece of crap"?

In the UK traffic lights look very green to me, and they are meant to be green. Have noticed some changes to many of them as they are transitioning to LEDs and they do seem slightly more cyan than before but I think most people would say they are still green.

ETA: Thinking about this a little bit more, wonder if the new ones appear to be as green because they are meant to be green and we always call them green? You've made me curious now and I'll have to look carefully when I'm driving home tonight.

And the UK we label them green, amber and red. Or also as green = go, red = stop and amber = go faster.
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Old 20th November 2019, 04:41 AM   #4
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In the first second or so of this video taken in Tokyo you can see a traffic light change from red to green (or blue as the Japanese would call it).

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Just to give a concrete example of how they appear here.
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Old 20th November 2019, 04:48 AM   #5
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Green traffic lights look yellow to me. I am red green colour blind, however, the red lights still look red and the amber look amber.

Leaves and grass look brown or orange to me. Some lawns to me look as orange as the fruit.

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Old 20th November 2019, 05:14 AM   #6
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My first career was as a graphic artist designing t-shirts, and sometimes helping with printing them on silkscreen on the press, after my art was converted into CMYK in adobe, and then into picking 2-5 colors to best represent the image I wanted in the final product.

My second career was in concert audio and lighting, which involved a lot of playing with colored light, where the RGB (red, green, blue... the traditional color wheel) "gels" were the spectrum "model" best used. You can, for fun, play with a spotlight and use a red gel, a blue gel and a yellow gel to make the light white. Super cool if you're into that stuff.

This link shows the "contrasting" wheels:

https://www.printingforless.com/color.html

For the traffic light, green is cyan + yellow, just like "yellow and blue make green" from the old ziplock ads.

Back in the old acid days of the wild 90's, an artist friend of mine and I freaked out thinking about color blindness and how, in theory, what I call green, he could see as red, and we'd never notice we were actually seeing different colors. We'd just have a different word we were taught for all the colors.

The internet meme "the dress" I THINK might have to do with a little bit of neurodiversity in our visual cortexes, or something like that. Not sure. Fun to speculate about, though.
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Old 20th November 2019, 05:21 AM   #7
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looks blue-green to me.
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Old 20th November 2019, 05:34 AM   #8
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Originally Posted by Puppycow View Post
Specifically, the light we call "green" which indicates "go".

Did you know that in Japan, they call that light ao (青), which translates as blue? The actual traffic lights in Japan don't seem to be much bluer than those in America though. I discovered this odd difference one day when I was in the car with my Japanese wife, when I didn't notice that the light had change, and she said "it turned blue," which had me nonplussed. (And some countries call the yellow light amber.)

Seems that a more accurate description might actually be cyan, but people don't use the word cyan very often.

According to this:
https://archive.education.mrsec.wisc...ht/spectra.htm

The peak wavelength for a green traffic signal light (LED) is 500 nm.

According to Wikipedia, green wavelengths are from 495–570 nm while blue wavelengths are from 450–495 nm. So that would put it in the green range, but very close to the blue end of green. Meanwhile, the range for cyan is given as 490–520 nm, which overlaps both green and blue, and 500 nm is pretty close to the middle of that range.

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Cyan
https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Green
https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Blue

If you know about how most printers make their colors, the colors they use are actually cyan, magenta, yellow and black (not red green and blue)

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/CMYK_color_model

But other than that, in everyday language, nobody ever seems to use the word "cyan," do they?
I think this is just a language thing. Color is a true spectrum, so translating the name for a color from one language into another is going to be tricky and imprecise a lot of times.
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Old 20th November 2019, 05:41 AM   #9
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Many languages don't have a word for blue, and there are certain (African?) languages that have more words for specific hues than European languages. I remember having read that someone researched the relationship between color perception and language, and people who spoke a language with more words for colors were better at sorting blocks of color in a gradient.

This is the first article that popped up when I googled it:
https://qz.com/1454466/your-language...s-a-new-study/
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Old 20th November 2019, 05:51 AM   #10
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You can't really compare light vs. a printer though. Two different mechanisms involved there. With light, the more you add, the lighter the color gets. With paint/ink/etc., the more you add, the darker the color gets.

I guess that is why wavelength is the best measurement method for colors.

Oh, and green lights look green to me. I don't really see any blue. Then again, it's not like I'm staring at a green light like I do a red light.
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Old 20th November 2019, 06:07 AM   #11
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Originally Posted by DuvalHMFIC View Post
You can't really compare light vs. a printer though. Two different mechanisms involved there. With light, the more you add, the lighter the color gets. With paint/ink/etc., the more you add, the darker the color gets.

I guess that is why wavelength is the best measurement method for colors.

Oh, and green lights look green to me. I don't really see any blue. Then again, it's not like I'm staring at a green light like I do a red light.
Wavelength is definitely the best objective measure and "point" to focus on for creating a consensus around and deciding on a name of a color.

The light in the video looks like what I'd describe as "some shade of kind of pale, yet slight vibrant pea green" to me.

Close to what Sherwin Williams calls "Julep" (probably referring to/borrowing from the "mint" in a "mint Julep?")

https://www.sherwin-williams.com/hom...ngColors&p=PS0
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Old 20th November 2019, 06:14 AM   #12
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I noticed blueness a few years ago.

But to throw another variable into the discussion, many windshields have a tinted band across the top. Your eye height my change your color perception.

And, if it is incandescent, as the bulb behind the filter ages it gets dimmer, more red than bright white....
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Old 20th November 2019, 06:20 AM   #13
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Then, verbally speaking, I call the fixture up there a "red light", not a "traffic light". It's a hold over from the days of the original system where there was only in light up there. Red. It came on alternatively for the two directions of traffic. Simple clock motor system. You see them in some old pics, a small fixture hanging over the middle of the intersection.
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Old 20th November 2019, 06:30 AM   #14
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Color-blind here. My understanding is that green traffic lights are designed to be shifted towards the blue end, to help with exactly that problem. I tend to have more trouble with the red/yellow lights, especially from a distance (so it's tough for me to know when to accelerate) .

Now with the shift to LED lights I can see there's a difference from the original color, but it's still distinct enough to tell me when to GO. I suppose I'd describe it as a frosty mint green.
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Old 20th November 2019, 06:44 AM   #15
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I heard a podcast, I think it was 99%, that interviewed a women who wrote a book about color. Apparently, languages don't add words for a color before they have a dye or paint for that color. Blue is apparently one of the last primary colors for which humanity developed a dye or paint. So, also sorts of weird linguistic artifacts around words for blue. Maybe this is one.

Also, I see green traffic lights as solidly green without a hint of blue. Now that I know its so close to green, I wonder if that will change.
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Old 20th November 2019, 07:24 AM   #16
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Originally Posted by kellyb View Post
I think this is just a language thing.
Yeah, It could be. I've noticed there's a few other things that the Japanese sometimes call blue that I would be more inclined to call green. Some green, leafy vegetables, for example. But of course there's a Japanese word for green, too: midori (緑). I wonder if there's a way that the color we perceive is influence by the word we use. The traffic light is sort of a bluish green near the blue end of the green spectrum, but if we called it blue, just as a convention, maybe we would actually see it as more blue than green?
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Old 20th November 2019, 07:27 AM   #17
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Oh, and I just came across an explanation:

The Japanese traffic light blues: Stop on red, go on what?

Quote:
At the heart of the confusion is the rather puzzling nature of the word 青 itself. In fact, it’s not only the “go” color of traffic lights that is referred to by this word, but a couple of other things too that would appear rather unblue. Thus we have 青葉 (あおば, blue leaves), 青芝 (あおしば, blue lawns) and 青りんご (blue apples), not to forget that well-known Tokyo upper-class district called 青山 (あおやま, blue mountain). In addition, there is the term 青二才 (あおにさい, lit. “blue 2-year-old”) to refer to inexperienced youths and other greenhorns. Speaking of which, we must not forget the two terms 青春 (せいしゅん) and 青年 (せいねん), both of which denote the somewhat unripe years between childhood and coming of age.

As becomes obvious here, the color term 青 comprises quite a few things and concepts that in English (and many other languages) are normally associated with the color green. The most common explanation for this is that the word 青 originally comprised both blue and green. This “grue” category, as it is called in color nomenclature research, has been identified for a couple of other languages as well. In Japan, it was only after the term 緑 came into usage that the color spectrum referred to by 青 narrowed from “grue” to blue. As a result, today most things that are green are in fact referred to as 緑. Exceptions such as the odd blue lawn or leaf are but relics from the old “grue” days.
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Old 20th November 2019, 07:44 AM   #18
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Originally Posted by ahhell View Post
Apparently, languages don't add words for a color before they have a dye or paint for that color. Blue is apparently one of the last primary colors for which humanity developed a dye or paint.
That's an interesting claim. Interesting because people have always seen the color blue in nature with animals, plants, minerals, etc.

She is saying that those people would have never given a name for the color in nature until they themselves created a dye or paint with that color. I would call that an extraordinary claim. Can you explain more about it?
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Old 20th November 2019, 07:52 AM   #19
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Originally Posted by William Parcher View Post
That's an interesting claim. Interesting because people have always seen the color blue in nature with animals, plants, minerals, etc.

She is saying that those people would have never given a name for the color in nature until they themselves created a dye or paint with that color. I would call that an extraordinary claim. Can you explain more about it?
I would think that the first color name, ever, would be "sky".
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Old 20th November 2019, 08:02 AM   #20
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"The Color! The Color!"

The color word "orange," didn't exist in Old English.
https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Orange_(colour)

In contemporary English we have this popular expression, "Purple," that's indiscriminately used for Violet, Plum, and Magenta.
(What the heck's Magenta!)

Isaac Newton couldn't find it with his prism.
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Old 20th November 2019, 08:22 AM   #21
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The Japanese light certainly looks close to cyan to me, but before one goes ahead with that it's important to note that it's photography, and color balance makes a huge difference, especially in the blueness of blues. Surrounding colors also make a difference. A blue-green tint that's greener than other blues will look green in context. The traffic light is certainly much greener than the blue patch above it.

It is an interesting issue, though, when blue and green meet. I had a truck long ago that I always considered to be light green, and which was, in fact, sold as being light green, but which many other people called blue. I painted a room a similar color and had similar reactions. People would come into my green room and remark on what a nice light blue it was.
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Old 20th November 2019, 08:23 AM   #22
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Originally Posted by Apathia View Post
Isaac Newton couldn't find it with his prism.
There are a lot of colors that aren't part of the spectrum. Not all color sensations are produced by a single wavelength. And most (maybe all?) color sensations can be mapped to many spectral distributions.
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Old 20th November 2019, 08:28 AM   #23
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Originally Posted by William Parcher View Post
That's an interesting claim. Interesting because people have always seen the color blue in nature with animals, plants, minerals, etc.

She is saying that those people would have never given a name for the color in nature until they themselves created a dye or paint with that color. I would call that an extraordinary claim. Can you explain more about it?
This is discussed in the context of the claim that agent people didn't see blue because if you read things like Homer, he never called anything blue. The sea and sky were described in all sorts ways that seem almost to deliberately avoid, "blue", the most commonly sited, "wine dark see". Apparently this is true of a lot of ancient prose and poetry.
https://www.businessinsider.com.au/w...e-color-2015-2 This was a relatively widespread news story, about 2 years ago ish.

There was also claim about the etymology of blue and how there was a time when French bleu meant colorful, then a time when it meant either blue or colorful then blue. Anyrate, its been a while, still makes more sense than people couldn't see blue until like 1400 or somesuch.


I think this the podcast in question.
https://99percentinvisible.org/episo...ives-of-color/
Frankly, its an idea I find interesting but don't quite buy myself.

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Old 20th November 2019, 08:46 AM   #24
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And I've never been there, but I'm guessing that the grass in Kentucky isn't blue either.
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Old 20th November 2019, 08:50 AM   #25
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Kentucky Bluegrass (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Poa_pratensis) wasn't named for the color of the leaves,but the flowers. Which are purple-ish.

We suck at naming things.
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Old 20th November 2019, 09:48 AM   #26
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Originally Posted by alfaniner View Post
Color-blind here. My understanding is that green traffic lights are designed to be shifted towards the blue end, to help with exactly that problem.
That would make sense. The most common form of color blindness isn't actually a lack of separate red and green cones, but reduced sensitivity to the difference between the two, especially in the region of overlap..

Have you ever heard of those color blindness eyeglasses? They're quite interesting. Basically, they filter light in that region of the spectrum where red and green overlap. Since most objects don't have a narrow spectrum like color LED's do, this has the effect of accentuating the parts of the spectrum on the red end and the green end of the spectrum. That makes reds pop out as more red and greens pop out as more green, thus making the world more colorful. You can even take an online test to see if your color blindness can benefit from them (not all color blindness can).
https://enchroma.com/pages/test
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Old 20th November 2019, 10:01 AM   #27
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Originally Posted by Apathia View Post
The color word "orange," didn't exist in Old English.
Did they just use a different word? What was their word for the color of orange flowers and orange leaves, etc?
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Old 20th November 2019, 10:21 AM   #28
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Originally Posted by William Parcher View Post
Did they just use a different word? What was their word for the color of orange flowers and orange leaves, etc?
banana
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Old 20th November 2019, 10:30 AM   #29
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Originally Posted by William Parcher View Post
Did they just use a different word? What was their word for the color of orange flowers and orange leaves, etc?
Probably yellow or red depending on the shade of orange. But in some cases, the colors used to describe objects in older writing is pretty inscrutable. Homer apparently talked about violet sheep.
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Old 20th November 2019, 10:37 AM   #30
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Originally Posted by Ziggurat View Post
That would make sense. The most common form of color blindness isn't actually a lack of separate red and green cones, but reduced sensitivity to the difference between the two, especially in the region of overlap.
https://enchroma.com/pages/test
Ah, thanks for this. I would say my red/green color blindness is moderate. When an object fills most of my field of view I will name those two correctly, including blends like purple. From a distance, I usually get them wrong. The US green traffic light has always looked nearly white except when I view it up close.
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Old 20th November 2019, 10:44 AM   #31
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Apathia
The color word "orange," didn't exist in Old English.
Originally Posted by William Parcher View Post
Did they just use a different word? What was their word for the color of orange flowers and orange leaves, etc?
Or William?
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Old 20th November 2019, 10:47 AM   #32
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Originally Posted by bruto View Post
The Japanese light certainly looks close to cyan to me, but before one goes ahead with that it's important to note that it's photography, and color balance makes a huge difference, especially in the blueness of blues. Surrounding colors also make a difference. A blue-green tint that's greener than other blues will look green in context. The traffic light is certainly much greener than the blue patch above it.

It is an interesting issue, though, when blue and green meet. I had a truck long ago that I always considered to be light green, and which was, in fact, sold as being light green, but which many other people called blue. I painted a room a similar color and had similar reactions. People would come into my green room and remark on what a nice light blue it was.
I have a chair that I have always seen as a dark, Forest green. I had some young relatives visiting and I asked who wanted to claim the green chair for the evening. They all said, "You mean the blue one?" (even the color-blind kid). I still can't see it as anything other than dark green.
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Old 20th November 2019, 10:57 AM   #33
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Originally Posted by Puppycow View Post
Yeah, It could be. I've noticed there's a few other things that the Japanese sometimes call blue that I would be more inclined to call green. Some green, leafy vegetables, for example. But of course there's a Japanese word for green, too: midori (緑). I wonder if there's a way that the color we perceive is influence by the word we use. The traffic light is sort of a bluish green near the blue end of the green spectrum, but if we called it blue, just as a convention, maybe we would actually see it as more blue than green?
It probably is somewhat a matter of perception.

It's hard to determine if a lot of the colors in "shades of magenta" "family" of color are closer to red on the spectrum, or blue. What we (or I, at least) think of as "purple" (from crayola purple) leans heavily "blue" over red, really (with some black pigment ,too).

So if you're shown a bunch of bluish-colors after being informed it's a family of "blue," that might look correct, but you could borrow a lot of the more red-tinged ones, and show it to someone and say they're shades of red, and it would look just like that, too. I'd guess.
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Old 20th November 2019, 11:18 AM   #34
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At the bar where I run poker tournaments, our lowest denomination chip is colored a light blue, kind of a turquoise shade. And about ten percent of the players think it's green.
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Old 20th November 2019, 02:26 PM   #35
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Originally Posted by Puppycow View Post
Oh, and I just came across an explanation:

The Japanese traffic light blues: Stop on red, go on what?
That was interesting. Thanks.
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Old 20th November 2019, 02:37 PM   #36
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Originally Posted by William Parcher View Post
Did they just use a different word? What was their word for the color of orange flowers and orange leaves, etc?
Interestingly in the UK we call the middle light in traffic lights "amber" not yellow or orange

Perhaps in ye olden times they used such an association with something else to describe its colour E.g. "the pebble was the colour of amber' whereas today we could say "the pebble was orange"?

That's just a thought off the top of my head so probably totally wrong.

But that could tie into the idea of when we need (in our language) a description of a colour without reference to something else, so perhaps it is only when we start to create pigments separate from anything else it becomes quicker/more efficient to call it "orange" rather than "the colour of polished amber"?
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Old 20th November 2019, 02:50 PM   #37
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Originally Posted by Darat View Post
Interestingly in the UK we call the middle light in traffic lights "amber" not yellow or orange

Perhaps in ye olden times they used such an association with something else to describe its colour E.g. "the pebble was the colour of amber' whereas today we could say "the pebble was orange"?

That's just a thought off the top of my head so probably totally wrong.

But that could tie into the idea of when we need (in our language) a description of a colour without reference to something else, so perhaps it is only when we start to create pigments separate from anything else it becomes quicker/more efficient to call it "orange" rather than "the colour of polished amber"?
My understanding of the claim is that before Old English they simply had no name for the color we call orange. To me that means that they didn't call it "amber", or "like amber", or "Fred", or anything. They simply said nothing at all.

I find that to be an extraordinary claim and I am skeptical. Maybe I don't understand the claim.
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Old 20th November 2019, 02:55 PM   #38
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Somewhere I can't find now, is a fascinating study of color names in languages and their progression (i.e. from whatever historical linguistics is called).

From memory, black/white is the earliest and most widely used name(s). Then comes red (the ancient Greek use of 'wine red sea' has nothing to do with people then not noting that the color of the sea is nothing like that of blood, for example). Blue/green is one of the latest/last distinctions, and is not consistent across languages (in some there's more than two names, used very consistently).

Somewhere else (which I also cannot find just now ), the green of traffic lights does indeed differ somewhat from country to country. Objectively (i.e. SED).
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Old 20th November 2019, 03:03 PM   #39
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Originally Posted by William Parcher View Post
My understanding of the claim is that before Old English they simply had no name for the color we call orange. To me that means that they didn't call it "amber", or "like amber", or "Fred", or anything. They simply said nothing at all.

I find that to be an extraordinary claim and I am skeptical. Maybe I don't understand the claim.
As I understand it the "boundary" between yellow and red lay somewhere in what we now call orange. Hence the robin redbreast*, which has an orange breast.

*European robin (Erithacus rubecula)
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Old 20th November 2019, 03:06 PM   #40
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In Ireland the shade of green is that of the bit of coloured plastic over the light bulb, except on the LED ones.

There's one set of lights that obviously have filters from different batches as the two "green" lights (both arrows) are noticeably different colours; one s far bluer.
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