How Well Do You Know Your Colors?

There comes a point in your life where you think that some things you’ve got down pat. Things like:

  • How to count to 100
  • Names of basic household objects
  • Names of most animals
  • What color something is

And then you have a child. And you realize you know nothing. You know less than nothing.

Here is a small selection of Pea’s coloring implements. This photo isn’t too bad as we require a re-stock since the kid goes through these like most of us go through toilet paper or beer or both since they do seem to go hand in hand for us ladies.

There were only a few markers left in her box, the rest having migrated into our own personal black hole where favorite gadgets, trinkets, pens, duckies et al seem to continually disappear. When the seal was still intact, this box had about 6 types of red, blue, green, yellow-browny, mustardy type colors, purples etc.  I saw it in the shop, I thought “oh how lovely, look at all those colors, Pea will love this!”

And then I got home, we got some paper out and this is the exchange we have:

pea: “what’s this?”

me: “violet ma cherie”  (me trying to say purple in French. No sooner have I said it I wonder what violet then is in french if purple is violet and here begins my decent into a hellish color abyss )

Pea, now pointing to another marker “what’s this?”

me, sweat beginning to break out on brow “c’est mauve.” (mauve, is that even a colour in english? and really what’s the difference between mauve and purple or purple and violet, or mauve and violet for that matter)

pea: “What’s this?”

me:  I don’t answer. Is that lavender? Is lavender lighter or darker than violet?

pea: “what’s this?”

me: still silent. Oh great we are in the blues. I think of all the blues I know: teal, navy, turquoise, royal, light, blue-black – Overlooking the fact that this last one is going to be a pain to try to explain,  blue is my favorite color and  I tell myself I know a number of blues. My confidence starts to come back until it hits me:

1. I don’t know all of those in French. Instead I start to think of others in I know in french like bleu ardoise and bleu canard and wonder whether I know these in English. Now my head starts to hurt.

2. Look at the markers in the photograph; there are many blues but most of them are NOT the blues I know. This box is looking less and less like a box of simple colors and more and more like a complex paint selection at home depot.

At least 10 minute have gone by at this point. Pea in the mean time has moved on to reds. What do I know about red?Light? Dark? Wait crimson? Ruby? I am starting to see them all in a police lineup and I can’t identify the perpetrators. Doesn’t matter, she isn’t asking at this point…. thank heavens.

I am ok with the fact that I don’t know the colors because I can get it wrong for me. In my world, I don’t matter. It is my choice.  But what I am suddenly obsessing about is the fact that I am potentially giving my daughter inaccurate information. And here’s the funny thing, I am not sure why it matters but it just does. I don’t want to confuse her. I hate that one day I call something mauve and the next violet. She already has a lot to contend with, 3 languages, a new baby sister, a new country, she doesn’t need her mother flip-flopping Senator Kerry style on colors.

I need a book. A book with all the colors in french, english and spanish. I need a colorist in the true sense of the word.

In the mean time I suggest we  move on to playdoh. She happily  makes the switch. But I know I am only putting off the inevitable.


PS Am wondering what her father answers? Does he over analyze the colors? My first thought is he is a man so no. But then I think well he is also an architect working on interior design so maybe. Mental note to self : make colors topic of conversation on next date night. Oh the exciting lives we lead.

14 thoughts on “How Well Do You Know Your Colors?

  1. So funny! I had the same experience once with kitchen utensils. You mean I can sit in an advanced Spanish class but I don’t know what a spatula is? Lol

  2. Pingback: Apri’s Blogging Carnival on Bilingualism

  3. Thank you SO much for writing this. I was doing an activity with my husband one night, checking out the colors activity on this computer program, and so many similar thoughts came to mind…You express them so well, and had me laughing throughout the whole post.
    I wonder what book that would be with all of those colors in it…i want the same in German!!

  4. Thank you so much for taking the time to read my post. I am so glad it resonated with all of you and mostly I am so glad it made you laugh. There is seldom enough laughter in ones life – unless perhaps you are Louis CK or Colbert’s wife. A bientot j’espere!

  5. This is hilarious! I used to do the same thing only with animals when my son was just a toddler! Two daughters and an international move later, we got past that point, now I tell them to look it up in a book or the dictionary or I say it in whatever language I know, except I tell the children what I’m doing and we laugh about it and we’ve kind of just learned to not sweat the small stuff! Primary colors! That’s all that really matters doesn’t it? ;) Your post was all the same simply funny! Thanks for sharing!

  6. Great post! This really brought a smile to my face – but, as another non-native speaker, I do know the same issue is lurking around the corner for me… If you do find that book I would definately appreciate you letting me have the details :-)

  7. Well I know the basics…BASICS don’t even cut it really. Thanks for the funny yet so true post…the little things add up don’t they?

  8. Oh thank God, I thought it was only me! I was reduced to sitting with my son while he played with his crayons (curse you Crayola for your zillion and one colours!), with a Roget’s Thesaurus in one hand and a Collins Robert in the other, trying to find something reasonably close to “wisteria”! you write so well, it no longer seems tragic, just funny! Merci!

  9. Yep, me too, been there done that!

    Hey, at least we care about clarifying the nuances among different shades of the same color. I guarantee you that my husband would look at purple, blue-violet, lavender, orchid, mauve, etc., and call them all “purple” and be perfectly content.

  10. Oh, this is too funny! Thanks for the laugh! … At the same time, I’m almost ready to hyperventilate at the thought of such a conversation lurking in my future! (My son only has 3 words, so it’s not a problem yet…) I have a PhD in German literature, yet I can’t talk to my son about animals, animal sounds, kitchen items, nature, body parts, … and apparently colors! And almost every time I look up a word, there are so many possibilities, I don’t know which is the one I’m looking for. I think you handled things beautifully — nothing like distraction! And I keep hoping that learning with my son will be the trick for learning at a reasonable pace. Right???
    As for husbands… mine still insists that my obviously pink coat is purple! What am I supposed to do with that?!
    And as for Crayola… I used to love all those descriptive names. Then my students started asking how to say things like “Purple Mountain’s Majesty” in German. Uhhhhhh…..
    Thanks for posting on the Blogging Carnival!

  11. Pingback: Colours: Differing Points of Hue via BBC « Multilingual Mama

  12. I realize I know my colour palette by a blend of both pure Chinese and Chinglish (English with a tonal Chinese accent) for some colours. Oh well.

    For instance, I can’t for the life of me remember Chinese (in my dialect, Toishanese, sub-dialect of Cantonese) for purple, brown, orange. Oh well….@53 yrs., having lost huge chunks of my mother tongue, there are waaaaay worse things that could befall on me than remembering all my colours in my mother tongue.

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