Sunday, May 31, 2009

Greek Green

Another chromatic word-of-the-week. Apologies to the colorblind.
verdigris (VER-di-GREES) — noun: 1. A blue or green powder consisting of basic cupric acetate used as a paint pigment and fungicide. 2. A green patina or crust of copper sulfate or copper chloride formed on copper, brass, and bronze exposed to air or seawater for long periods of time.
Artists might have reason to know the first definition, but anyone who has spent time around old metal stuff should recall seeing the instance of the second definition. I only learned of this word recently, from a post on Bradshaw of the Future that traced the verdigris’s possible connection to the word ooze.

The post also introduced me to the notion that the word’s association with a greenish-gray color is erroneous. Someone with a basic knowledge of French might think that verdigris comes from the French color words vert, “green” and gris, “gray.” And that would be a good guess, too, especially considering that the sound-alike ambergris does, in fact, come the words for “amber” and “gray.” But the word actually comes from the Middle English vertegrez, which in turn descends from the Old French vert-de-Grice, literally “green of Greece.” Feel free to share any ideas about how this particular green became associated with Greece, because it’s apparently not known, at least according to the Online Etymology Dictionary’s entry on the word.

Previous words of the week:

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