Wednesday, February 26, 2014

The definition of vermilion

Lena stood before her fish tank, assessing the wide range of colors, but she noticed one color that was not in her tank. "Gee, I yoost wish I had a vermilion fish."  Ollie replied "Vermilion? Holy cats, Lena! Where are we gonna get a fish tank big enough to hold dat many fish? You tink I'm a vermillionaire?"

Where's the vermilion fish?

Like Ollie, I think many of us are confused about the correspondence of color names to actual physical colors. Seymour’s dictum – any fancy-dancy color names have ambiguous definitions, that is, people will disagree about the color represented by the name. Vermilion sure sounds fancy-dancy to me.

In a previous post "Is my green the same as yours, revisited", I showed that there are at least four colors (red, green, blue, and yellow) that do not have ambiguous names. Does this apply to vermilion?

Dictionaries

Let's check the dictionaries.

Merriam Webster says vermilion is "Vivid reddish orange".

Dictionary.com says vermilion is "a brilliant scarlet red". But what is scarlet? They define scarlet  as "a bright-red color inclining toward orange". So according to this dictionary, vermilion is "a brilliant bright-red color inclining toward orange red".

Scarlett considers changing her name to Vermilion

Wikipedia favors us with the definition "brilliant red or scarlet". But again, what is scarlet? They define Scarlet as "bright red with a slightly orange tinge". So according to Wikipedia, vermilion is defined as "brilliant red or bright red with a slightly orange tinge".

The Free Dictionary calls vermilion "a vivid red to reddish orange".

There is some mild disagreement about the hue of the color. Is it red, orangeish red, or reddish orange? By some of the definitions, a vivid red could be called vermilion. That just confuses me. Why go to all the trouble of making up a word, without first checking if a suitable word already existed?

Based on the dictionary definitions, here is my expectation about what colors could be called vermilion.

Where does vermilion fall?

My conclusion so far is that it's okay for my wife and I to disagree when it comes to naming objects vermilion. When she says "What do you mean? THAT'S not vermilion!" all I need to do is point her to this blog post. "See Honey?  John the Math Guy agrees with me that vermilion is an ambiguous color name."

How about the paint companies?

One would think that paint companies would be an excellent source of a definitive definition of color names. Let's have a look online.

Here's something odd. There were quite a few paint companies (Valspar, Behr, Olympic, and Pittsburgh Paints) that offered "orange vermilion", but apparently don't sell straight vermilion. I left those out. Clearly if the name has a modifier, it could be a different color.

I went to the various websites selling these paints and jotted down the RGB values for what they called vermilion. The montage below shows various conceptions of "vermilion".

Will the real vermilion please stand up?

As I said, one would think that the paint companies would honor the true definitions of color names. One would think wrong.

My conclusion is that the dictionaries don't agree very well on the definition of vermilion and paint companies are even worse.


Webpages where I sampled color from:

Ultrect
Dutch Boy
Dulux
Art Paints
Glidden
Sherwin-Williams
Benjamin Moore
Dust Furniture
AccuMatch






8 comments:

  1. Don't get me started on stupid paint names: Just Froggy, Teddy Bear Brown, Lettuce Alone, Ack!

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  2. Stupid paint names?!?!? That sounds like a great idea for a blog post! :)

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  3. I've always understood that English is the language with the greatest number of agreed basic colour terms - 11 - White Pink Red Brown Orange Yellow Green Blue Purple Black Grey and that everything else is essentially made up and you have free reign to come up with names like "Candy Love" (which is real - https://www.dulux.co.uk/colour/candy_love_1). Very handy if you're in the marketing department of a paint company!

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  4. Mark - With some exceptions, those 11 color names are universal across all languages that are "mature". One exception is that Russian has a name for light blue and another for dark blue.
    (See the section called "Eleven": http://johnthemathguy.blogspot.com/2012/09/how-many-colors-are-in-your-rainbow.html)

    Whether the other color names are just "made up"? Certainly "Candy Love" and "Just Froggy" fit in that category. Other names are probably not terribly ambiguous, like tan and maybe coral. Maybe burgundy?

    There was some discussion on LinkedIn about beige. One would think this is a very handy and clear color name, but the interior decorator type color experts out there are surprised at just how widely people interpret "beige"!

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  5. Great topic! Thank you for your piece. ....The book on colour according to kgn ;) Vermillion is made from the mineral Cinnebar - just makes me think of cinnamon, so to me it's a deep rusty red, warm and vibrant. Accumatch is way off in my book as is Glidden, simply because in Cinnebar there is no blue ...... ask another and I'd be all wrong LOL

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  6. Derwent range of colours has Deep Vermillion and the Prismacolor range includes Pale Vermillion. These at least have a name variance as well as a shift in the depth of 'Vermillion'. The difference between the two seems to be that Deep Vermillion has more red to it, and the Pale Vermillion minus the red = a rich orangy red. This makes sense to me, and looking at the source of the colours in their original (photographed) forms on Wikipedia, all of which can be visually biased... they make sense here too.

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  7. Derwent range of colours has Deep Vermillion and the Prismacolor range includes Pale Vermillion. These at least have a name variance as well as a shift in the depth of 'Vermillion'. The difference between the two seems to be that Deep Vermillion has more red to it, and the Pale Vermillion minus the red = a rich orangy red. This makes sense to me, and looking at the source of the colours in their original (photographed) forms on Wikipedia, all of which can be visually biased... they make sense here too.

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  8. Like all the pre-industrial paint names, Vermilion refers to a physical pigment that is ground in oil or other medium (as noted by Kirsten). The natural colour variance in the pigment and the natural colour shifting of different media and concentrations of pigment in media move the colour of "Vermilion" paint around. The support or substrate the paint is applied to and its thickness move the colour further in random directions. Further, due to the impermanence and expense, true Vermilion is rarely used today although artists paint manufacturers still market paints known as Vermilion (Hue) which is generally one or more azo reds with orange tones. Each manufacturer has its own mix of pigments, binder, filler and medium which it markets as Vermilion (Hue). And the paint then needs to be recreated for printed tube labels involving further colour shifts after the paint is matched to Pantone colours by designers. Then the printed labels are scanned or matched by a Web developer to hex values.
    Honestly I'm surprised that none of the paint swatches in your final table were bright green.

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