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Inspirational Reads

The Color Purple Violet

October 11, 2009

When I was a mere lad, spending my days in grammar elementary school, I had an art teacher who was a bit off. I mean, she was a nice enough lady, but I don't know if I learned anything of art from her. Most of the time, she gave us a bunch of projects to do, and then kind of tut-tutted about when we weren't creating works on the scale of Rembrandt. Except for this one kid, Ricky LaFollette, who was a phenomenal artist. He also kept getting caught jerking off in the bathrooms. Maybe that's the key to good art: constant masturbation.

Anyway, this isn't really about how often Ricky was pounding putz. No, this is about the one particular obsession my grade school art teacher had: the word purple. In fact, she would have been happy to stamp that word from the lexicon. Purple was the Jews to her Hitler. That might be a bit dramatic sounding, but she would actually dock your grade if she heard you say purple.

Her claim was that purple was not a word, that the shade should be called 'violet'. And she was ready to back her claims up with a half-grade drop, should one utter that profane word in her presence. Problem is, purple is most definitely a word.'s probably the right word.

Fat lot of good this does me twenty years later, but...

See, purple entered into the English language in the northern parts of England late in the 10th century. It's origin comes from the Latin word purpura, and evidently the word drifted north and was carried over by some of our Danish friends that we discussed on Friday. Words have a tendency to drift across the lands and change slightly as they do so, and even though Rome had fallen by the time purple shows up, Latin was still being spoken as a way of communicating back and forth with the various tribes and kingdoms that comprised the wilds of Europe in those days. When purple originally hit English, it came in as the Old English purpul. The shift from an /r/ to an /l/ is a common shift when words hop languages, or when people have been drinking too much malt liquor.

Violet, on the other hand, doesn't show up until the fourteenth century, and comes to us via Old French in the form of violette. This, in turn, is a diminutive form of the Latin word viola, meaning violet. The important thing here is that violet, in this sense, was in reference to the pretty little flower, the blue to rose's red. Once the word showed up, it was used to describe the color of the flower, and by the measure of it coming from the Old French, then it was used primarily by the aristocracy, who still spoke French in England following the Norman conquest in 1066. By this time, purple was firmly rooted with the common man.

To take this one step further, "purple" is used to describe the color and "violet" is used to describe the wavelength in the visible spectrum, you know, the old ROY G BIV acronym you were forced to learn at some point.

And, because it's Sunday, I looked up some synonyms of purple, trying to find a cool-looking shade. Amaranthine is a pretty cool sounding name, and it's apparently a deep shade of reddish-purple. It can also be used in the sense of eternal, unfading or everlasting. It is derived from the word amaranth, a type of flower, and comes originally from Greek amarantos, unwithering.

So, there you have it, Mrs. Chenoweth. I was perfectly fine in saying purple--especially when it was written on the crayon sleeve--and you were just being a nutty old fruitcake. However, she was a Purdue fan, so that probably explained a lot.


JenJen said...

No one's petals should wither.
Amarantos all around.

Miss Vintage Vixen said...

Which one is Twilite? Sounds very interesting. Is it out yet, perhaps?

Gosh. "Is it out yet perhaps." What kind of freaking sentence is that?


Is it out yet to be bought by the citizens of America?

Jon said...

I'm sorry, were there more words after that Olde English photo? Good God.

p.s. Oprah sucks.

Soda and Candy said...

I think it's a law that all art teachers have to be at least a little bit insane. Some just wear kooky stockings and others... others throw student's projects out the window and overshare about their sex lives. (Hi Mrs W!)

OMG, also, my w/v is hittla. Appropes since you mention your teacher was Hitler to purple, no?

Scope said...

You should have started with the Purdue thing. That would have explained her fanatical devotion to insane ideas.

Malt Lick Her...

dg said...

Heh. My nickname is Violet, because when I eat salsa and drink margaritas I blow up like Violet Beauregarde did when she chomped on that piece of forbidden gum. I turn into a veritable blueberry (except I am margarita-shaded) and then little orange Oompa Loompas have to come in, dancing and singing, and roll me away to the juicing room.

And, verily, it is painful.

Chemgeek said...

I love purple

Nej said...

Purple is much more fun to say, if that makes any difference.

Which I'm sure it doesn't.

Forget I said it.

:-) :-) :-)