Why Oranges Are Orange

And more fun color trivia from an enlightening new book, ROY G. BIV, which decodes color, with surprises all across the spectrum


Here’s some color trivia:

  • The frequency signals of a beating heart, ocean waves, and the stock market all show up as “pink noise” on a graph (versus white noise). The pinkest film on a graph? Back to the Future.
  • Oranges aren’t orange because they’re ripe; they turn orange when exposed to chilly temperatures. In warmer climates, like Thailand, ripe oranges may actually be green.
  • In Germany, “making blue” means playing hooky, because medieval printmakers and dye workers had to take a day off after concocting blue dye to let the color oxidize and last longer.

A whole spectrum of mythbusting and knowledge around color comes to light in the new book ROY G. BIV, by Jude Stewart (who has written for Co.Design). As she reveals, paint chips at the hardware store are a miniscule representation of the ways color informs our lives.

Tangibly, color is properties of light, pigments, and dyes. Culturally, color is information.

Take the primary examples of red and blue as a case study. In the book’s introduction, Stewart explains:

Only 26 countries (out of 194 total) don’t include red in their national flags; when clashing on a battlefield, two opposing nations each draw their courage to fight from the same color. What doesn’t the color red mean? Calm, chilly, boring, innocent: Only a few ideas spring to mind…Red rooms make people working in them more accurate and cautious, and blue turns them more creatively loose…More than half the world channels their God through blue: Jews contemplating the infinite, embodied in blue-fringed shawls; Muslims in blue mosques; Buddhists fingering turquoise beads as they pray, all thinking blue, blue, more blue.

The origins and implications of how we’ve integrated color into our day-to-day existence are dizzying–and hardly consistent. For example, Western culture immediately associates brides with white, but only because Queen Victoria made the personal choice of wearing it to symbolize a blank-slate new start of a life for her nuptials in the 1800s. (This choice may or may not have been driven by the fact that she married her cousin.) Or the tired trope of pink for girls, blue for boys? That didn’t exist until the 1940s.

Find out more in ROY G. BIV, available for $17, here.

About the author

Margaret Rhodes is a former associate editor for Fast Company magazine.