One is, on occasion, asked a naïve, or reductive question, such that, following his polite and patient response, leads him thereafter and unexpectedly, into more profound thought on the general subject. The derisible question, here, was, “Why don’t the different colors, in nature, clash?” This question, posed by an adult citizen is, strange, childish, and, upon contemplation, astoundingly, naïve. Man has developed in the ambiance of his natural surroundings, and has accommodated to its natural appearance and normative propriety. His sense of color is a phenomenon, based, as Edmund Burke would say, solely upon his “learned experience”. The colors that are presented in nature, do not clash, because we have, eternally associated them together, and not by some exercise of (arbitrary) design. Certain other colors may “clash” when used together, because they do not conform to our personally learned, or societally influenced, experience.
This highly unusual and naïve question, shortly thereafter, led us to a subject that interested us, viz., the existence of a need for color, in speech, to communicate information, feeling, thoughts and important messages, as an alternative to words. The simplest, and most widely recognized illustration, is seen in the common use of red and green traffic lights.
“The perception of color”, we are told, “derives from the stimulation of “cone cells” in the human eye by radiation within the visible spectrum.” We are not neuroscientists, and are more interested in the use of color, however generated, as a necessary communicative supplement, to the American-English lexicon.
We have developed in our day-to-day language, (excluding its metaphoric employment in poetics) the needed use of color, as an expression of descriptive or emotional nature. “It says it in black and white” (clearly), or he is playing a “blue” (sad) song. He was, “red hot” (very angry). She was, “green” (definitively) with envy; more recently, it is a “blue” (democratic) or “red” (republican) or purple (mixed) State. ”Green,” has also become synonymous with, environmental responsibility, and on occasion, liberal politics.
Shall we continue, “white wash” (wrongfully excused),” green at the gills (Sickly) “yellow” (cowardly) “bronzed” (heavily suntanned), greenhorn (foreigner), situation “red” (emergency), “code blue” (hospital emergency), “in the red” (insolvent business), “in the black” (solvent), a “gray area” (undefined). Not to mention the many “colorful” expressions, such as, “white as a ghost,” she is a “colorful character” (exotic persona), he is the sports announcer who provides the “color” during the match, or, the designation, a “red light” district, which means the tenderloin.
We could continue, ad infinitum, and ad nauseam, to furnish additional illustrations of our use of words, borrowed from the interactive generation of our cones and rods with our retina, in the attempt to satisfactorily fulfill the need for satisfactory expression. The foregoing paragraphs were intended to show the extent of use of our strange word partnership with our natural sense of sight, as needed, to fortify a substantial weakness in our sense of speech. To be more precise, for the the failure of the Anglo-American lexicon, to avail a speaker, or writer, with a competent inventory of expressive adjectives and nouns, so that he can, with a feeling of relief, conclude that he has expressed his emotions or, feelings, fully and precisely. The language of American English is quite suitable for expressing the language of bills and invoices, but shamefully, inadequate, in the case of words related to feelings and emotions. The Romance languages, apparently, are not thus handicapped. Even the modestly spoken, Yiddish, with which we have some passing familiarity, does not suffer from this handicap.
Take for example, the ubiquitous word, “love,” in English. One may be very hungry and say: “I’d love to have a slice of pizza,” or be wearing very uncomfortable shoes and say, “I’d love to take my shoes off, or being tired, I’d love to go to sleep now,” or to a grandchild, “I love you.” Even in the modest, retro and seldom used, language of Yiddish (as we are confident is true of many other languages) there is an appropriate word, or form of the word, “love,” for each relevant and applicable use; for a lover, for a spouse, for the uses mentioned. The American vocabulary is unforgivably impoverished, in its inventory of “feeling” words. Perhaps this is due to the fact that we inherited the language of the traditionally, phlegmatic English, and not the Portuguese or the Italian cultures.
In any event, it clearly evidences an unmistakable admission, of the paucity of our Nation’s language, when one is necessarily obliged, to supplement his desire for satisfactory, personal communication, with words, more appropriately representing electronic-light impulses occurring at the retina.