Wednesday, June 23, 2010

A Few Shahs

Of course, Shah refers to the title of Iranian kings including the Achaemenid dynasty which unified Persia and created a vast intercontinental empire. What does this have to do with color?

Some color names have been beaten up during history, like purple and glaucus. Presently, the most tormented color name refers to this color:

a magenta patch

This is a device color. If you print his page, the rectangle is reproduced with 100% magenta ink and nothing else. On your display it is rendered with 100% red and 100% blue. What you perceive depends on your display device and its calibration or miscalibration state.

Legend has it the name comes from the City of Magenta, where 151 years ago a battle took place that left the fields in the above color from the soldier's blood. But the above color is not the color of Magenta, because in Italian by color of a city we mean the colors in its crest. Therefore, the colors of Magenta are yellow and black:

Città di Magenta

The little village of Magenta near Epernay, smack in the middle of Champagne, got its name from the Italian Magenta 151 years ago, to celebrate the French victory over the Austrians in the battle of Magenta. Unlike the yellow and black original Magenta, the French Magenta is all magenta, starting with its crest:

blason de Magenta

Their magenta Web site explains that in 1859 a new red colorant with a pink slant was discovered, and to commemorate the French blood spilled in the battle of Magenta, it was called magenta (and not because of the fields of Magenta being red from blood). In 1860 this color became fashionable in London as red magenta.

London notwithstanding, "magenta" is more a technical term from the printing industry than an everyday color name. According to the Wikipedia, magenta was originally called fuchsine, and it mentions fuchsia as the non-technical color name for the perception of the colored rectangle at the top of this page.

Indeed, we can confirm this from Nathan's color naming experiment, where the color name fuchsia is very frequent.

And here we come to the Persian kings. People generally know that this color is pronounced few Shah in English, but they have no idea on how to spell it, making it the most tormented color name in Nathan's English color name thesaurus.

The trick to remember how to spell few Shah, is to think at a German fox. The name comes from a flowering plant that in the western culture was identified in the late 17th century by Charles Plumier, who in 1703 named it after the German botanist Leonhart Fuchs (1501–1566).

Although I have driven through both the Italian and the French Magenta, I did not take pictures in either of them, also because in both green is a preponderant color as you scan the landscape. Since I started by showing you magenta, let me conclude with a few fuchsias from Mrs. Nonaka's garden (some have portions of a table as a background, and that table's paint color is named botticelli):


  1. Dear Dr. Color,

    My daughter has asked me to paint the wall in her room this color:

    The color name on the paint can is "Hot Lips" but that is hardly appropriate. Can you tell me if this is Magenta or Fuchsia?

  2. I'm sorry to say, but among the few shahs you mention, you omitted the most important, and arguably the more colorful, one.

    We quantum heads know that shah is what Dirac used to comb his hair (and a few other things).

  3. The answer to the first comment is in the following post,