2

Violet and Purple are treated as distinct colours in the English language. However, I have learned that in French “violet” is the umbrella term for both purple and violet. Is this true? Also, what is the colour “pourpre” then?

  • 2
    Related: english.stackexchange.com/questions/71638/… English often call purple what French call violet. French would say the actual color of a choix rouge is violet (and would never say pourpre) while English would generally say the color of a red cabbage is purple... – jlliagre Jul 12 at 7:38
  • 1
    Note that neither French nor English would say a red cabbage / choux rouge is red / rouge ;-) – jlliagre Jul 13 at 15:37
7

In more technical areas of color discussion, what is "purple" in English (i.e. everything between indigo and magenta on the color wheel) is divided between "pourpre" on the reddish side of things (Pourpre being originally what English refers to specifically as Tyrian purple) and "violet" on the bluish side of things. (cf. Trésor de la langue française s.v. Pourpre & Violet, French Wikipedia...)

In the common language, however, pourpre has in practice evolved toward just being a general elevated/poetic synonym of violet (which now is roughly synonymous with English purple), because the specific shades of color that pourpre originally referred to are nowadays more likely to be referred to with wine-related words such as bordeaux or lie-de-vin.

| improve this answer | |
  • Héritage/appropriation catholique de pourpre : books.google.com/ngrams/… d’origine romaine cnrtl.fr/lexicographie/pourpre B.2.b – Personne Jul 13 at 6:54
  • 2
    As an aside for completeness, in Belgium mauve has displaced violet as the generic term for purple, relegating in the process violet back to the bluer subset of this part of the spectrum. – Eau qui dort Jul 13 at 18:22
  • 1
    Color terms have always been a little messy, and doubly so now that color terms are significantly affected by fashionmaking, especially from paint company (I read in an article years ago that they specifically avoided the word "mauve" in any color name at the time because it's used for less saturated versions of purple/violet in North America, and that wasn't fashionable back then.) – Circeus Jul 14 at 17:41
  • @Circeus — Même si c’est un peu passé de mode, c’est la couleur préférée de certains corbillards pompes-funebres-dieppoises-privees-sarl.business.site/?m=true … violet, mauve, parme étaient des nuances de la couleur préférée des grand-mères bourgeoises d’après-guerres (première et seconde). – Personne Jul 14 at 21:25

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service, privacy policy and cookie policy

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.