Because I was so successful last week eliminating the brouhaha about gay marriages, I’m willing today to wrestle with an even thornier topic — the names of colors.
What I’m saying is, if you don’t want to start World War III, don’t ask what color “puce” is, or even “heliotrope.” They sound like cloak-and-dagger medical terms anyway.
When I was a kid, we didn’t have this problem. We lived by seven basic colors we learned when we memorized the name “Roy G. Biv,” an acronym denoting the units of the spectrum — red, orange, yellow, green, blue, indigo, and violet. Don’t ask where black, brown, and white came in, because I don’t know.
I remember when our teacher, Miss Lucille Ree — We called her Miz Ree. Get it? — handed out little packets of Crayolas and told us, “Draw a rainbow using Roy G. Biv.”
Behind me my friend Virgil Crotchmire whispered, “What’s a Roy G. Biv?”
I glanced around and noticed the girls bent over their big chief tablets, drawing something colorful, but the guys were shrugging hopelessly, staring at blank faces.
“What’s with you boys?” Miz Ree said. “Why aren’t you coloring?”
That was when Little Miss Teacher’s Pet, Virgil’s sister Hyacinth, raised her hand and said, “They don’t know their colors, Miz Ree.”
“WHAT?” Miz Ree boomed, and some guys close to her desk were blown clear to the back of the room. “How many times must I tell you, Roy G. Biv stands for red, orange, yellow, green, blue, indigo, and violet? Shee!”
“Oh, THAT Roy G. Biv,” Virgil muttered behind me, and all the boys leaned forward and fumbled with their Crayolas.
But they didn’t start drawing, because they had an even greater problem. One of the guys in the class was named Wayne Beau Golightly, a huge Neanderthal who had flunked countless grades and was rumored to shave with a rusty knife, without water.
We scholars of the male persuasion thought Miss Ree was telling us to draw colorful pictures of Wayne Beau, not “rainbow.”
But we were dedicated scholars and obedient to our teachers some of the time, even though we knew our crude pictures would launch Wayne Beau into terrorism orbit. That happened, of course, when our pictures were posted, but we accepted our fate like the stoics we were and ran screaming all the way home after school.
I don’t think they teach Roy G. Biv anymore in school. Nothing is just plain old red, or any of the other colors for that matter.
Today, even in hunting and fishing catalogs, “red” is listed as cardinal, carmine, crimson, cochineal, cherry, cinnabar, old rose, rubious, or solferino. If you mix in a little purple, you have amaranth, burgundy, magenta, maroon, mauve, or puce.
Then, of course, if you mix red with yellow or orange, you have amber, apricot, coral, flamingo, peach, salmon, or tea rose, and mixed with brown it’s auburn, brick, chestnut, ginger, henna, mahogany, oxblood, roan, rust, rubiginous, or ferruginous.
Thumb through your own catalogs, and you’ll see what I mean. There you’ll find dozens of weird descriptive words, like ebony, fuliginous, jet, raven, sable and subfisc instead of black, and bay, beaver, beige, biscuit, café au lait, cinnamon, dun, mocha, nutmeg, sandalwood, sepia, taupe, tawny, tortoiseshell, umber, and walnut for brown.
Yellow is the worst. If you mix it with green, you have chartreuse, luteous, or reseda, or you can have it plain or mixed with a little brown to have barium, chamois, champagne, citrine, citron, fallow, fawn, flax, fulvous, gamboge, jonquil, maize, nankeen, ochre, old gold, saffron, topaz, or stale beer.
No, I’m only joking about the beer, but you can see what I’m driving at. No longer can you buy a gray suit. It has to be charcoal gray, dove, or nutria.
I don’t know about you, but I’m not about to wear a dove suit, let alone a nutria sports coat.
My neighbor, Nick Scourge the abacus professor, has yet another problem. He’s color blind. He goes into a store to buy something brown and comes out wearing café au lait pants. He wants a white dress shirt, he has to decide between alabaster, bisque, ecru or dirty laundry.
You can see that the world of colors is rapidly becoming more complicated. My solution? Return to Roy G. Biv — black, brown, and white not withstanding.
Bob Huber is a retired journalist living in Portales.