Word of the Week

Week nineteen: RUSSET (probability 9798), by David Sutton

RUSSET is a reddish-brown colour, deriving from Latin russus, red. It can also be a verb, giving RUSSETED and RUSSETING, and RUSSETING can also be a noun, being either a kind of apple or a brownish roughened area on fruit, especially apples, caused by injury; in this latter sense it has a varaint RUSSETTING. There is also an adjective RUSSETY.

RUSSET seems to have changed its meaning over the centuries, since Shakespeare in a 'Midsummer Night's Dream' speaks of 'russet-pated choughs'. By choughs is meant jackdaws, rather than choughs proper, and of course jackdaws have grey pates, as the observant Shakespeare must have known. But colours can be notoriously tricky to agree on, since nobody knows what another person is seeing when they claim to experience the sensation of a particular colour, and some languages seem downright casual about distinguishing what may seem to us quite distinct shades: the Welsh glas, for example, seems to stretch over blue, grey and green.

Here are some other unusual colour words. BADIOUS is a chestnut-brown. BLONCKET is a Spenserian word for grey. CAESIOUS is a bluish-green. FAVEL (or FAVELL) is a light brown or chestnut. FILEMOT (or PHILAMOT or PHILOMOT) is a dead leaf colour, dull brown. IANTHINE is violet-coloured. LYARD (or LYART or LIARD or LIART) means streaked with grey. NACARAT is a bright orange-red. PHAEIC means of a dusky colour (PHAEISM is incomplete MELANISM in butterflies). TITIAN is red-gold. XANTHIC or XANTHOUS is yellow. And finally ISABEL (or ISABELLA or ISABELLINE) appears to immortalise a certain Isabel, who for whatever reason did not change her underlinen for three years, by being a dingy yellowish-grey.


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