v43: skär

I just read an article (Taft C, Sivik L. Salient color terms in four languages. ScandJPsych 1997; 38: 29-34), which looked at lists of colour names elicited from subjects in four languages, including Swedish.

Their findings were compared to Berlin and Kay’s description of 11 basic colour terms (white, black, gray, red, green, blue, yellow, orange, brown, purple, pink).

An interesting result (according to Taft and Sivik) was that there are two words for pink in Swedish: rosa (mentioned by 100% of subjects) and skär (mentioned by 80%), and also for purple: lila and violett (both 100%). I hadn’t heard of skär (in the colour sense), so I checked with colleagues, who said skär is not really a common word for pink, and is used when talking about unpleasant shades of pink. So Swedish has the word grisskär (pig-pink). Sorry, pigs!

I also learnt that lila is the most common word for purple, but there are further alternatives, including purpur and gredelin (from the French gris de lin, ‘flax gray’) . So I looked up the terms for purple on Google. Google Sweden gives the following simple search options: webben (the web) ; sidor på svenska (pages in Swedish); sidor från Sverige (pages from Sweden). I searched for five words meaning purple (or shades thereof) in Swedish, and found the following numbers of hits:

webben på svenska från Sverige
lila 16,400,000 877,000 796,000
purpur 590,000 28,500 21,600
violett 2,160,000 54,000 47,100
gredelin 79,900 66,400 461,000
indigo 28,600,000 130,000 146,000

What do you notice? What seems bizarre is that gredelin has more hits from Sweden than it does from the web in total. Huh?? Secondly, I guess we can agree that lila is the commonest term here for purple, but gredelin is definitely a good second choice. Plus, it sounds much more sophisticated, don’t you think?

(This kind of search won’t work for rosa/skär, because skär has a number of other meanings, including skerry and cut.)

Taft and Sivik also found that one Berlin and Kay non-basic colour term, beige, was mentioned by 100% of subjects, putting it ahead of both skär and grå (gray).

Back to this week’s word, I’d always believed that a French charcuterie was a pork butcher, but it’s actually a specialist in cooked meats (from chair, ‘flesh’ + cuit, ‘cooked’). Swedish has essentially the same word charkuteri (abbreviated as chark, see last week’s photo). And guess what? From the French chair is derived the Swedish skär, that is, the colour of flesh! Pig flesh, obviously.

Next week:


What day is it today?

Published in: on October 19, 2009 at 11:39  Comments (2)  
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2 CommentsLeave a comment

  1. Another meaning of ‘skär’, that you might know of already, is ‘pure’.
    For example there is a Swedish hymn called ‘Det är en ros utsprungen’ where one part of the text is ‘… en blomma skär och blid’.
    Skär here does not mean pink (although it is about a rose), which many Swedes think, but pure. It’s not easy to keep track of all different meanings of words.

    There is also a song which is often sung at Christmas about ‘Jungfru, jungfru, jungfru skär’. Jungfru means maiden and she is not pink, but pure. Many Swedes don’t know this meaning of the word and then the text is quite incomprehensible, but people usually happily sing it anyway.


  2. Perhaps purpur translates more closely to ‘purpley’, as in purpurröd, purpley-red

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