Let’s talk about the color green. It’s the first color of the year after the browns and greys of winter, it’s the color of nature, growth, and new things. It can influence emotions, bringing an end to the winter blues.
Have you ever thought about the influences of color on language?
For English speakers, even the word “green” has an extensive set of meanings. You’ve given a greenhorn the green light to speak green language. A green eyed monster is upset over not having a green thumb. The grass is always greener on the other side, even if the other side is a green belt that’s green about the gills. Companies are going green so they can keep making green. It’s not easy being green.
Why is that?
Well, nature, naturally.
Language grows and evolves based on its surroundings. English started in the rolling green of the British Isles, so green would naturally be important. Green started as a reference to the color, quickly gaining the meaning of “nature” because of all the plants. This meaning branched out, becoming life and springtime, which would then continue to become wisdom, calm, and tolerance, or hope, youth, inexperience.
An interesting facet is English is one of the languages where “green” and “blue” have different meanings entirely. If you went back in time to before World War II, visited Japan, and asked a random person on the street what the name of this color is, or that color, they’d give you the same name. This is because the distinction between blue and green wasn’t present in their language until the heavy influence of English during and after WWII.
So, why does English have the distinction?
English is a weird language, no one’s going to argue this. It’s a combination of the local Celtic dialects, with heavy influence from invading Romans and, later, pillaging Saxons. The Celtic dialects had a catch-all term for greens, blues, and greys, which has its influences on the Welsh language, but that’s about it. Romans had the Latin word “viridis” for green, its linguistic cousins being “ver” for spring and “virere” for the verb “grow”. Those are still present in the words verde, vert, and verdure. But the real source of the word “green” comes from the Old Germanic word “ghre”, or “to grow”.
That whole “green-eyed monster” reference to jealousy was because of some no name playwright, a Bill Shakespeare or something.
But what on Earth does it have to do with birds?
There’s a long standing belief that the “green language” refers to the divine language of angels, and of academics. Eventually, it became the language of the birds since it takes great wisdom in order to understand. For millennia, birds have been used in divination, their flight patterns helping people determine when to plant or harvest. Eventually, this evolved into the belief that the language of the birds holds wisdom and knowledge, a belief both the Nords and ancient Greeks shared. This influence spread, mostly seen in fairy tales where the hero is granted the ability to understand the birds, or will have birds speak to them.
Isn’t language fascinating?