19 Colors You’ve Probably Never Heard Of

iStock.com/terrababy
iStock.com/terrababy

Most of the basic English names for colors—like red, yellow, and green—are among the oldest recorded words in our language and can be traced right back to the Old English period. One exception to that rule is the color orange, which didn’t begin to appear in the language until after oranges (the fruit) were imported into Britain from Europe in the Middle Ages. Before then, what we would describe as orange today had just to be called either red or yellow (or, if you wanted to be really specific, red-yellow). But the English language being as enormous as it is, a predictably vast vocabulary of words have been invented, borrowed, and accumulated over the centuries to describe almost every color and shade imaginable—from the precise color of a bear’s ears to the murky green of goose droppings. 19 brilliantly named examples of colors you’ve probably never heard of are listed here.

1. Australien

Pinnacles desert in Australia
iStock.com/vanbeets

The 1897 guide House Decoration includes, in a chapter dedicated to mixing oil paints, “a list of new colors for ladies’ dresses,” among which is listed australien. Inspired by the rusty color of the rocks and deserts of the Australian outback, the name australien was used by dressmakers and fashion houses in late Victorian England for a deep orange color.

2. Banan

A bunch of bananas on a wooden background
iStock.com/sergio_kumer

The color of a ripe banana? That’s banan.

3. Bastard-Amber

A square of light amber
Rebecca O'Connell

Bastard-amber is the name of an amber-colored spotlight used in theaters to produce a warm peach or pink glow on stage. It’s often used to recreate sunlight, or to give the illusion of dawn or dusk.

4. Drake’s-Neck

Two mallard ducks
iStock.com/taviphoto

The drake in question here is the male mallard, a species of duck found across North America, Europe, and Asia. The males have an iridescent bottle-green head and neck, which gave its name to a rich green-colored dye called drake’s-neck in the early 18th century.

5. Drunk-Tank Pink

A square of pink
Rebecca O'Connell

Drunk-tank is the name of a bright shade of pink that has been the subject of a number of studies on the effects of colors on human temperament. This particular color—also known as Baker-Miller pink, after the two U.S. Navy officers who invented it—has been demonstrated in numerous experiments to have a calming influence, and so is often used in prisons and police holding cells to help keep inmates relaxed and to discourage unruly behavior.

6. Falu

Falun is a small city in Sweden renowned for its copper mining industry. Since the mid-16th century (at least), many of the wooden homes, barns, outhouses and other buildings in and around Falun have been traditionally painted a deep rust-red color known as falu that is manufactured from the iron-rich waste materials left over from the mines.

7. Flame-of-Burnt-Brandy

A burning cocktail
iStock.com/Santiaga

As the dyeing industry developed in the 19th century and was able to produce more and more colors, dressmakers and designers were left to concoct a whole range of weird and wonderful names for the new hues at their disposal. Flame-of-burnt-brandy was just one of them, described in 1821 by one ladies’ magazine as a mixture of “lavender grey, pale yellow, and dark lilac.” Other equally evocative names dating from the same period include dragon’s blood (a deep purplish-red), d’oreille d’ours (a rich brown, literally “bear’s ears”), elephant’s breath (steel gray) and flamme de Vesuve ("the flame of Vesuvius," or the color of lava).

8. Gingerline

A bunch of kumquats
iStock.com/HarmKruyshaar

Not just another word for anything ginger-colored, gingerline is often said to be a reddish-violet or reddish-brown color. However, by other accounts it describes a rich orange-yellow. According to one description, it refers very precisely to the color of ripe kumquats.

9. Incarnadine

A square of of dark red-brown
Rebecca O'Connell

Incarnadine is an etymological cousin of the adjective "incarnate," meaning “having bodily form.” In this sense it literally means flesh-colored, but Shakespeare used it to mean blood-red in Macbeth, and nowadays it’s usually used to refer to a rich crimson or dark-red color.

10. Labrador

A square of light gray-blue
Rebecca O'Connell

Not, as you might think, the color of a Labrador dog, labrador is actually a shade of blue that takes its name from the mineral labradorite, a blueish form of feldspar.

11. Lusty Gallant

A pale peach-pink rose
iStock.com/Tippapatt

Lusty gallant was originally the name of a dance popular in Tudor England, but somehow, in the late 1500s its name became attached to a pale shade of red, similar to coral pink. Quite how or why this happened is unclear, but according to the Elizabethan writer William Harrison, dressmakers at the time had a habit of giving increasingly bizarre names to the colors of their clothes in the hope of making them more appealing to buyers. In his Description of England, written in 1577, Harrison lists the names of several “hues devised to please fantastical heads,” including “gooseturd green, pease-porridge tawny, popinjay blue, lusty-gallant, [and] the-devil-in-the-head.”

12. Nattier

Jean-Marc Nattier, The Comtesse de Tillières
Jean-Marc Nattier, The Comtesse de Tillières
Wikimedia Commons // Public Domain

Jean-Marc Nattier (1685-1766) was a French Rococo artist known for a series of portraits of women from the court of Louis XV of France depicted as characters from Greek mythology. Despite achieving enormous popularity during his lifetime—his contemporaries thought his work so exquisite that they even accused him of painting with makeup rather than paint—Nattier is relatively little-known today, but he lives on in the name of a deep shade of slate-blue that he used in a number of his paintings, most notably a portrait of The Comtesse de Tillières (1750), nicknamed “The Lady in Blue.”

13. Pervenche

A square of blue
Rebecca O'Connell

Pervenche is the French word for periwinkle, which came to be used in English in the 19th century as another name for the rich purplish-blue color of periwinkle flowers.

14. Puke

Brown woolen socks
iStock.com/Coprid

Fortunately, when William Shakespeare wrote of a "puke-stocking" in Henry IV: Part 1, he didn’t mean anything having to do with vomit. In 16th century England, puke was the name of a high quality woolen fabric, which was typically a dull, dark brown color.

15. Sang-De-Boeuf

A square of oxblood
Rebecca O'Connell

Unsurprisingly sang-de-boeuf, or “oxblood,” is the name of a rich shade of red that was originally a blood-colored pottery glaze made with copper. Although the name sang-de-boeuf dates back no further than the late 19th century, the technique used to manufacture oxblood glazes was first developed possibly as far back as the 1200s in China.

16. Sinoper

A square of deep orange
Rebecca O'Connell

Popular among Renaissance artists, sinoper or sinople was an artist’s pigment containing particles of hematite, an iron-rich mineral that gave it a rich rust-red color. Its name comes from the town of Sinop on the Black Sea coast of Turkey, from where it was first imported into Europe in the late Middle Ages.

17. Verditer

A square of bright mint green
Rebecca O'Connell

Verditer is both an old fashioned name for verdigris, the green rust-like discoloration of copper and brass, and the name of a blue-green pigment dating from the 1500s. Its name, which is derived from the French verte-de-terre, or "green of the earth," is today used in the name of a bright turquoise songbird, the verditer flycatcher, which is native to the Himalayas.

18. Watchet


Watchet is a very pale blue color, similar to sky blue. According to folk etymology, the color takes its name from the town of Watchet on the coast of Somerset in southwest England, the cliffs around which appear pale blue because they are rich in alabaster. As neat a story as this is, however, it’s much more likely that watchet is really derived from waiss, an old Belgian-French word for royal blue.

19. Zaffre

A square of deep cobalt blue
Rebecca O'Connell

Zaffre is the name of an ancient blue pigment originally produced by burning ores of cobalt in a furnace. Its name was borrowed into English from the Italian zaffera in the 17th century, and is ultimately descended from the Latin word for “sapphire.”

A version of this story first ran in 2014.

What Are The Most Popular Baby Names In Your State? An Interactive Tool Will Tell You

iStock/PeopleImages
iStock/PeopleImages

Baby names can be just as in vogue, as unpopular, and occasionally as controversial as any fashion trend. If you were ever curious to see which names were the most popular in your home state, now you can.

The Social Security Administration has an interactive tool on its website that allows users to see the top 100 names that made it onto birth certificates by both birth year and state. There’s also an option for seeing what the top five names were by year, plus links to the most popular baby names by territory and decade as well as background info that explains the data itself.

Maine, for example, saw a high number of Olivers and Charlottes born in 2018 while Brysons and Viviennes rolled in last. If one were to turn the Census clock back to 1960 (the earliest year the tool can take you to), they would find that Pine Tree State folks were most partial to the names David and Susan. The names at the bottom for that year? Darryl and Lynne.

Baby names can offer telling insight into an era—they often reflect significant cultural happenings of the time. In 2009, for example, it was reported that there was a significant increase in Twilight-related names like Bella, Cullen, Jasper, Alice, and Emmett, whereas 2019 saw a spike in children’s names more appropriately found in Westeros, with Arya and Khaleesi topping the list (though one mom came to regret naming her daughter the latter).

Each of the names on the website were taken from Social Security applications. There are certain credentials by which names are listed, including the name being at least two characters long. Although it is not provided by the tool, records kept by the administration list the most popular names as far back as the 1880s.

10 Words & Phrases Coined in Comic Strips

iStock/crisserbug
iStock/crisserbug

Cartoons, comics, and newspaper comic strips might seem like an unusual source of new words and phrases, but English is such an eclectic language—and comic strips have always had daily access to such a vast number of people—that a few of their coinages have slipped into everyday use. Here are the etymological stories behind 10 examples of precisely that.

1. Brainiac

The most famous brainiac is a cold-hearted, hyper-intelligent adversary of Superman who first appeared as an alien in DC Comics’ Action Comic #242, “The Super-Duel In Space,” in 1958. But after releasing his first adventure, DC Comics discovered that the name was already in use for a do-it-yourself computer kit. In deference to the kit, Brainiac was turned into a “computer personality” and became the great villain. As a nickname for an expert or intellectual, his (and the kit’s) name slipped into more general use in English by the early 1970s.

2. Curate’s Egg

Like the curate’s egg is a 19th century English expression that has come to mean something comprised of both good and bad parts. It comes from a one-off cartoon entitled “True Humility” that appeared in the British satirical magazine Punch in November 1895. Drawn by the artist George du Maurier (grandfather of the novelist Daphne du Maurier), the cartoon depicted a stern-looking bishop sharing breakfast with a young curate, who has unluckily been served a bad egg. Not wanting to make a scene in front of the bishop, the curate is shown eating the egg anyway, alongside the caption “Oh no, my Lord, I assure you, parts of it are excellent.”

3. Goon

Goon is thought to originally derive from gony, an old English dialect word once used by sailors to describe cumbersome-looking seabirds like albatrosses and pelicans. Based on this initial meaning, in the early 1900s, goon came to be used as another word for an equally dull-looking or slow-witted person, and it was this that presumably inspired Popeye cartoonist EC Segar to create the character of Alice the Goon for his Thimble Theater series of comics in 1933. But it’s Segar’s portrayal of Alice—as a dutiful but impossibly strong 8-foot giantess—that went on to inspire the use of goon as a nickname for a hired heavy or thug, paid to intimidate or terrorize someone without asking questions, in 1930s slang.

4. Jeep

Jeep is popularly said to derive from an approximate pronunciation of the letters “GP,” which are in turn taken as an abbreviation of “general purpose” vehicle. If so, then jeep belongs alongside only a handful other examples (like deejay, okay, veep and emcee) in an unusual class of words that begin their life as a phrase, then become an abbreviation, and then a whole new word based on the abbreviation—but in the case of jeep, that’s probably not the entire story. According to the Oxford English Dictionary, the spelling jeep was likely influenced by the character Eugene the Jeep, a yellow cat-like animal (that only ever made a jeep! jeep! noise) that also first appeared alongside Popeye in EC Segar’s Thimble Theater in 1936. Jeep was then adopted into military slang during the Second World War as a nickname for an inexperienced or enthusiastic new recruit, but eventually somehow came to establish itself as another name for a specialized military vehicle in the early 1940s and it’s this meaning that remains in place today.

5. Keeping Up With The Joneses

A Keeping Up With the Joneses strip from 1921
A "Keeping up with the Joneses" comic strip from 1921
Pop Momand, Wikimedia // Public Domain

Synonymous with the quiet rivalries between neighbors and friends, the idiom keeping up with the Joneses comes from the title of a comic strip created by the cartoonist Arthur “Pop” Momand in 1913. Based partly on Momand’s own experiences in one of the wealthiest parts of New York, the strip ran for almost 30 years in the American press and even inspired a cartoon series during the height of its popularity in the 1920s. The eponymous Joneses—whom Momand wanted originally to call “The Smiths,” before deciding that “Joneses” sounded better—were the next-door neighbors of the cartoon’s central characters, but were never actually depicted in the series.

6. Malarkey

Etymologically, malarkey is said to somehow derive from the old Irish surname Mullarkey, but precisely how or why is unclear. As a nickname for rubbish or nonsense talk, however, its use in English is often credited to the American cartoonist Thomas Aloysius Dorgan—better known as “TAD”—who first used it in this context in several of his Indoor Sports cartoon series in the early 1920s. But the spelling hadn’t been standardized yet. Once he spelled it Milarkey referring to a place, and in one famous example, depicting a courtroom scene, one of Dorgan’s characters exclaims, “Malachy! You said it: I wouldn’t trust a lawyer no further than I could throw a case of Scotch!” (Dorgan, incidentally, is also credited with giving the English language the phrases cat’s pajamas and drugstore cowboy.)

7. Milquetoast

Taking his name from the similarly bland breakfast snack “milk toast,” the character Caspar Milquetoast was created by the American cartoonist Harold T. Webster in 1924. The star of Webster’s Timid Soul comic strip, Caspar was portrayed as a quiet, submissive, bespectacled old man, whom Webster himself once described as the kind of man who “speaks softly and gets hit with a big stick.” His name has been used as a byword for any equally submissive or ineffectual person since the mid-1930s.

8. Poindexter

When Otto Messmer’s Felix the Cat comic strip was adapted for television in the late 1950s, a whole host of new supporting characters was added to the cast, including a super-intelligent, labcoat-wearing schoolboy named Poindexter, who was the nephew of Felix’s nemesis, The Professor. Created by the cartoonist Joe Oriolo, Poindexter’s name—which was apparently taken from that of Oriolo’s attorney—had become a byword for a nerdish or intellectual person in English slang by the early 1980s.

9. Shazam

Shazam was coined in Whiz Comics #2 in February 1940, as the name of an old wizard who grants 12-year-old Billy Batson the ability to transform into Captain Marvel. The wizard’s name, Shazam, was henceforth also Captain Marvel’s magic word, with which he was able to call on the wisdom of Solomon, the strength of Hercules, the stamina of Atlas, the power of Zeus, the courage of Achilles and the speed of Mercury.

10. Zilch

As another word for “zero,” zilch has been used in English since the early '60s. But before then, from the 1930s onward, it was predominantly used as a nickname for any useless and hopeless character or non-entity or someone who didn't exist. In this context it was probably coined in and popularized by a series of cartoons that first appeared in Ballyhoo humor magazine in 1931, and which featured a hapless unseen businessman character named “President Henry P. Zilch.” Although it’s possible the writers of Ballyhoo created the name from scratch, it’s likely that they were at least partly inspired by an old student slang expression, Joe Zilsch, which was used in the 1920s in the same way as John Doe or Joe Sixpack would be today.

This list first ran in 2015 and was republished in 2019.

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