While it’s widely known that different languages divide the chromatic spectrum in different ways and that colors evoke different ideas for different cultures, I’d like to focus on a few mutations that certain connotations have spanned over the course of time. Let’s take a look at a few examples.
Not long ago the food industry began to undergo a period of review of certain principles that propped up (or continue to prop up) the prevalence of specific basic products in regions that are as far apart as they are dissimilar. The steady deterioration of the image of genetically modified foods and the advance of organic alternatives has very much led to a crisis of white as a symbol of purity. Whiteness is but a product of processes that, at least commercially, provide added value but ultimately move the final product further away from its original purity.
While in English this supremely natural color is used to describe an intense feeling of envy (to be green with envy), certain varieties of Spanish use it to characterize indecent jokes (un chiste verde/“a green joke”) or even apply it to adults with indecent sexual preferences (un viejo verde/“a green old man”). Despite these rather unhappy examples, in recent times green has become a symbol for anything that acts in benefit of the environment. An almost inescapable example is the name of the well-known Canadian NGO that protects and defends the environment. We might add to this use of the color green that of green energy (renewable, nonpolluting energy) and, quite recently, green roofs (the roof of a building which is partially or entirely covered with vegetation, whether using soil or any other appropriate means).
Pink and Sky Blue
There are those who believe that there is a quasi-genetic predisposition between colors and people’s gender. This could explain the sort of chromatic status quo that for decades has matched boys up with sky blue and girls with pink. However, it so happens that up until about a century ago pink was the color associated with boys and sky blue the color associated with girls.
Since we only have monochromatic versions of classic visual documents, which cannot reveal to us the opposite reality of that time, it’s not a bad idea to consult some textual sources to shed some light on the matter. In an edition of Ladies’ Home Journal in 1918 it is stipulated that, “The generally accepted rule is pink for the boys, and blue for the girls. The reason is that pink, being a more decided and stronger color, is more suitable for the boy, while blue, which is more delicate and dainty, is prettier for the girl.”
The context of war and the custom of dressing boys as little sailors (in blue strictly by the book) ended up consolidating the switch in question, securing blue (or sky blue) for boys and pink for girls.
This segregation is never more evident than it is upon the birth of a child. When it’s a boy, gifts are almost invariably sky blue in color, while if it’s a girl, both the gifts and the overall outfit will be pink. We can only now wait for future generations to further elaborate on the disarticulation of these arbitrary connotations.