Shall we paint the cave mauve?

Hey Matt:

I remember reading somewhere that primitive people didn't have as many names for colors as we have today. Was everything I olden times less colorful than it is today?

-- M. Cook, elsewhere

Olden times, like, before Ted Turner colorized Fred and Ginger? The best anthropologists can tell, necessity being the mother of invention and all, things may have been just as colorful, but primitive man never tackled a project like Horton Plaza, so there was no need for trillions of color distinctions. "Dark" and "light" sufficed if you lived in a cave. The abundance of color names seems to reflect the complexity of a society's technology, say scholars who've studied the evolution of color names in dozens of world languages. They've noted that all languages have words for black and white. In languages that have three color words, red is invariably the third; the fourth and fifth would be yellow and green, not necessarily in that order. Blue is sixth, brown is seventh, and beyond that there's no set pattern. Has something to do with the invention of the interior decorator, I think.

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