Monday, September 8, 2008

Colors Without Names

I was making muffins (what else?) over the weekend. The recipe called for a cup of jam. When I stirred it in, the batter turned a delightful color. A color that I had never seen before. A color that I have no name for.

It was cherry jam that I added but it didn't look like "cherry" as it is generally labeled. The flour, the buttermilk and all the other ingredients contributed their own nuances to the batter, so that it wasn't pink and it wasn't beige and it certainly wasn't "cherry". There were flecks of fruit throughout giving contrast to whatever color this was.

When the muffins came out of the oven, they were a different un-nameable color; closer to what we might call "cherry" but only if we mean the color of cherrywood furniture. They were a rich, inviting color. A color for a favorite pullover or a cozy chair. Something to envelop and warm you.

I've noticed the same phenomenon in handspun yarn. The spinner plys two or three seemingly unrelated colors and the resulting yarn is a wonderful, never before seen new color; rich with depth and feeling.

All of this made me wonder about the limits of language. We are visual creatures who take in massive amounts of information through our eyes. And yet, we cannot adequately describe what we see. We cannot share with any exactness the color of a thing without resorting to an endless list of adjectives or delineating what something is not. We say something is green. But what sort of green? Leaf? Olive? Emerald? Grass? Sage? Loden? Moss? Or some shade found only in one location at one time of day when the sun hits it just right?

Our perceptions are so clear that we can take in the feeling of a color but language limps when we try to share it. So I cannot describe the muffins' color, beyond saying that it was the color of jam muffin batter after I stirred in the black cherry Polander All Fruit. And it was very pretty.


Joanne said...

I hope the muffins tasted as good as they looked.

Starman said...

Great observation! It shows that we cannot express in words all that we experience in life. Somethings are truly indescribable!