Red Colour Words
None of the derivatives of Latin ruber ‘red’ are common. The first two I learned were the medical adjective rubifacient ‘making skin reddish’ and the noun and adjective rubric. Rubrics were the letters or words painted red in ancient illuminated manuscripts. Rubrics were used to call attention to individual words and letters, and in later mss. to highlight titles, headlines and first words of a paragraph. I have used rubric headwords throughout this column.
In this photo, copyright © The British Library, a P in rubric and a rubric line appear in a manuscript illuminated in France in 1445 CE.
Rubella, a diminutive Latin form, refers to the ‘little red’ spots of German measles.
A rubicund countenance is a face healthy with the reddish glow of vim and vigour. Rubicundus as a Latin adjective means ‘abounding in red coloration.’ Think of other Latinate English adjectives like fecund ‘abounding in fertility’ and jocund ‘abounding in joy’— not, as the Oxford English Dictionary claims, ‘abounding in jest’ but rather jocund derives from a common shout of joy in both Latin and Greek antiquity, “Io!” and “Iu!,” both forms cognates of our English word joy and both attested in classical literature, so that jocund = Iu! + -cundus a Latin suffix of bounty; therefore jocund means ‘abounding in joy.’
A blush may be rubicund.
Ruby is a red corundum long treated as a precious gemstone. When the Norman Conquest of England in 1066 CE poured thousands of new French words into the English vocabulary, one of those precious stone words was Old French rubi < Late Latin rubinus ‘reddish’ < classical Latin rubeus or ruber ‘red.’
Rubor – Soon or late, every medical and nursing student learns that the classic symptoms of inflammation are expressed as a mnemonic (memory aid) by three Latin nouns: rubor, tumor and dolor ‘redness, swelling and pain.’
Incarnadine —This little pinkie began as an adjective, then a noun in English, meaning first ‘pink’ or ‘carnation red’ and later a noun colour name for carnation-pink, imported through French incarnadin from Italian incarnadino ‘carnation’ or ‘flesh-colored < Latin incarnatus ‘flesh-colored’ < Latin incarnare ‘to make flesh’ (said of Jesus in fifth-century postclassical Latin) < Latin caro, carnis ‘flesh.’ Think of English derivatives like carnal and charnel house ‘a house of dead flesh, a corpse room, a mortuary.’ The same Latin word gives the French word for flesh, chair. Think too of carnival, a festivity traditionally held on the night before the start of Lent, Shrove Tuesday, during which revelers playfully bid adieu to bodily wants by crying in Latin O Carne, vale “O Flesh, Farewell!” That at least is the folk etymology. It is more likely that carnival stems ultimately from a Medieval Latin verb phrase like carnem levāre ‘to put away the eating of meat’ (flesh) until after Lent.
Shakespeare used the verb to incarnadine with a new meaning in his play Macbeth, used it so memorably that afterward it acquired the meaning ‘to turn blood-red’ and Shakespeare’s new meaning swamped all earlier senses. Macbeth is fretting about murder and all the blood he has spilled never to be washed off, when in Act 2, Scene 2, he says “This my Hand will rather The multitudinous Seas incarnadine, Making the Greene one Red.”
Note: Some of the important Macbeth manuscripts have the word misspelled as incarnardine with that erroneous extra r. I have chosen to correct it, as I am certain Shakespeare’s actors did.
Rarities & Obscurities
While ruber is the most familiar Latin red adjective, many other red words in Latin are used, especially in medicine, botany and zoological naming. Here are some.
atrosanguineus dark blood red
cardinalis cardinal red, a red bird
Cardinal Wolsey confronts Thomas More about Henry VIII’s divorces.
carminatus carmine red
cerasinus cherry red
cinnabarinus cinnabar red, vermilion
coccineous scarlet, deep red (rare to obsolete), but consider the zoological name of the lady-bug Coccinella and the name of a red dye famous in history and still used, namely, cochineal, made from the dried bodies of a Mexican insect Coccus cacti.
cruentus bloody, blood red
erubescens blushing, turning red
flammeus flame red
miniatus cinnabar red, vermilion
roseus rose-colored, red
rufescens light red, almost red
rufus red, reddish, red-haired
russatus reddish, russet
rutilans red, becoming red
sanguineus bloody, blood red
The standard ancient Greek adjective for red was ἐρυθρός erythros. Dozens and dozens of modern compound words in medicine, botany, zoology and mineralogy contain this morpheme (root).
Erythrocyte = ἐρυθρός erythros ‘red’ + -cyte ‘blood cell’ < ancient Greek κύτος kutos ‘hollow receptacle, empty vessel,’ hence in late French –cyte ‘cell’ borrowed then into English; a cluster of red blood cells is shown above in macro-closeup.
Erythrocytopenia is a decreased number of red blood cells (erythrocytes) in the blood, symptomatic in some anemias. The suffixal part of the compound is from ancient Greek πενία penia ‘need, lack, deficiency.’
Erythrophobia is fear of red or fear of blushing from ἐρυθρός ‘red’ + Hellenistic Greek suffix – ϕοβία –phobia ‘fear of’ < classical Greek ϕόβος phobos ‘fear.’ But all fear of red is not irrational. A synonym is hematophobia ‘fear of seeing red blood.’ As wordman Anu Garg has written “Red screams danger or at the very least inconvenience and annoyance. It’s no wonder we do our best to avoid it. Red ink is a sign of trouble in business. Red light stops us in our tracks. Who wants to be caught red-handed?” Red-handed means, of course, hands stained with fresh blood. He did it! Guards, seize him!
Erythrophyll is the chemical that turns maple leaves red in the fall of the year after green chlorophyll production has ceased. The suffix is Greek ϕῦλλον phyllon ‘leaf.’
Zooerythrin is a red pigment in bird feathers. Greek ζῷον zoon is one Greek word for animal, literally ‘something alive.’ Consider zoology, the study of animals, sometimes seen at a zoo (short for zoological gardens) by a woman name Zoe (Greek ‘life’).
Not part of this discussion but worth perusing in further study are the many interesting English cognates of our word red, including ruddy, ruddle or reddle (a red ochre used in marking sheep) and rust (red oxides of iron).
copyright © 2012 William Gordon Casselman
French Canadian Translation Services
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