I’m still trying to figure out exactly why I became obsessed with identifying obscure and obsolete colors. I can trace part of it to my graduate studies in art history, where I was always expected to overanalyze and contextualize art, yet never have an opinion as to whether I actually liked something or, god forbid, think something is “good.” It might be my childhood in 1970s America, that decade of avocado green, harvest gold, rust, and beige…so much beige…with a brief saturation of red + white + blue right in the middle of the decade. Part of it is because my vision is quite poor in one eye, and I feel like I want to see everything as thoroughly as I can in case there comes a day where I can’t see anything at all.
I originally started this project in 2009, posting obscure and obsolete color definitions on Facebook for my friends, but I let it die out after a few dozen entries. They were nouns, adjectives, and verbs, words that have been lost or coöpted into specialized vocabularies describing things such as birds’ wings, lichen hues, or the coats of horses. It is now over a decade later and I’m still thinking about it, still mentally adding entries to my color dictionary.
I’ve paired these definitions with photos of mine that incorporate the colors described, at least so far as I see them to be related. Some of the colors have no exact rendering (jacinthe, puce, festucine), while some are very specific (gules, smaragdine, tyrian purple), and others merely indicate a tendency towards hue (icteritious, flavous, ianthine). Interpreting color is a delicate act, and I’m convinced no one sees the same color exactly the same way. The way I may see a color may not line up precisely with the way you see it; my photos may not be exactly the way you think it should be or the way you think I’ve characterized it—basically, your results may vary. Still, I do hope you enjoy thinking about these lost color names and looking at their depictions.
Photos and definitions will be added periodically. Thank you for looking!