navy blue, marine blue or dark blue?

Discussion in 'English Only' started by Jessila, Nov 30, 2005.

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  1. Jessila

    Jessila Senior Member

    France, french

    just wondering how what is the most common name for that colour...
    you know when children learn the colours of the rainbow, what do they say between blue and purple?

    in France, we say "bleu marine", but I looked for it on the WR dictionnaries, I ended up with navy blue and marine blue, and sometimes I heard people talk of "dark blue"... so I'm a bit confused, what's the best to teach to children?

    many thanks ^^
  2. gm9617d Senior Member

    Hi, in English navy blue and dark blue tend to be used indiscriminately. With the colours of the rainbow, the colour between blue and violet is indigo.
    The mnemonic
    (red, orange, yellow, green, blue, indigo, and violet)
    Richard Of York Gave Battle In Vain
    under a rainbow sky

  3. Jessila

    Jessila Senior Member

    France, french
    Yes of course ^^
    I had forgotten... in french too we say "bleu indigo" for the rainbow :p
    even if in every day language, I think "bleu marine" or "bleu foncé" are the most heard.

    But in english, isn't "purple" more commonly used than "violet"?

    See, I'm giving english lessons to children between 7 and 11 years old, and I wouldn't like to mislead them ;)

    Anyway, thanks very much ;)
  4. ElaineG

    ElaineG Senior Member

    Brooklyn NY
    Definitely! But we learn that particular sequence (using "violet") for the colors of the spectrum when we are small children; not being a scientist, I couldn't tell you why the colors of the spectrum have those particular names.

    In America, we are taught to remember it as a man's name: "Roy G. Biv" and like many things you are taught in elementary school, you remember the mnemonic long after you have forgotten whatever it was they were actually trying to teach you.
  5. E-J

    E-J Senior Member

    Cambridgeshire, UK
    England, English
    At my school, we wore a navy blue uniform, and where I come from, I think this is the choice you're most likely to hear if it's clothes or fabric that are being described. Dark blue is a perfectly acceptable alternative, though. Funnily enough, I don't think I've ever heard anyone refer to anything as being "marine blue". :)
  6. Jessila

    Jessila Senior Member

    France, french
    okay ^^
    thanks a lot to all of you :)

    considering I'm often taking clothes for examples of colours... I'm gonna stick to navy blue and purple ;)
  7. irisheyes0583 Senior Member

    San José, Costa Rica
    English (USA)
    Just one thing: violet, to me, is a specific color (or shade). However, there are many different shades of purple!
  8. gm9617d Senior Member

    Hello Jessila,
    you are right. In English, people tend to say purple rather than violet. You perhaps have noticed that foreign speakers of French tend to use "pourpre" a lot until they learn that "violet" is used more frequently in French. However, for the colours of the spectrum we say indigo and violet.
  9. DaleC Senior Member

    There is no confusing dark blue and navy blue. Navy blue is a hue that is difficult to tell from black when you are more than than a few yards away from it. It is much darker than the focal or "truest" dark blue.

    In fact, the phrase "dark blue" is not a basic color term in English, just "blue" is. But "true blue" is the dark blue, at least for me. That is, to the question, "what's the bluest blue, what's the first shade you think of when you hear 'blue'?" my answer would not be "light blue" or "sky blue", but either the blue of the Israeli flag or the blue of the French and Netherlands flags (the Israeli shade is I think "lighter" and brigher).

    I am surprised that a gm9617d from Scotland equated navy blue with dark blue. Not just because they easily distinguished, but because I thought that the name "navy blue" was inspired by the fact that the U.S. Navy chose this shade for its official color. Perhaps there is more to the history of "navy blue" than I realized. Moreover, gm9617d's green, yellow, orange, and blue are far from the focal shades of their hues.

    I have never heard the term "marine blue" suggested as a regular color term.
  10. E-J

    E-J Senior Member

    Cambridgeshire, UK
    England, English
    Well, I agree with gm9617d that most people I know use navy blue / dark blue interchangeably. I'm a painter but I've never come across "focal shade" or "focal colour" before - are they scientific terms?
  11. DaleC Senior Member

    I will explain "focal" shade below. It's a long and fascinating story. ;)

    Everybody, look at the samples of blue and navy blue on the page The Blue at the top of the page is close enough to my true blue, me not having other color samples to compare it to. Furthermore, find blue and navy blue displayed side by side in the WEB COLORS BAR at the bottom of this entry. Note that not all of Wikipedia's color term entries contain this Web colors bar -- volunteers needed to paste it into where it's missing!:).

    Also check out the clickable palette: The 216-color Webmaster's palette at (found by Googling on "Web colors") I have to admit, what they call "green" is too "light" for me, my true green is their medium green. -- notice that indigo is darker than true blue, not lighter as I remember somebody said. In fact, indigo seems to be the origin of navy blue. (This would make historical sense, since indigo was one of the prime commodities in the "triangular trade" cycle of the 1600's and 1700's (between Britain, Africa, and the British colonies, it included the slave trade). For centuries Europeans had only two or three widely available dyes, of which indigo was one. No wonder the Royal Navy would use it in the middle of the triangular trade era.)

    Navy blue is darker than the hue my computer terminal is displaying at the Wikipedia entry for navy blue (see link below), but the correct navy blue is displaying correctly on the Web colors bar in the aforementioned article on Blue.

    Wow, "navy blue" doesn't come from the U.S. Navy.

    ok, is anybody going to say now that British dialect "navy blue" is interchangeable with blue?

    * * * * *
    About "focal".
    This term comes from a seminal -- and breathtaking (if you have a certain mentality) study on color terminology in about 70 languages led by Brent Berlin and Paul Kay, published 1969. Two of the main findings undermined a half century of prevailing thought in cultural anthropology. It solved a methodological problem and made findings with huge implications for the neurology of vision and for cultural anthropology. Berlin and Kay is mentioned in almost every textbook of linguistics or anthropology.

    These professors in Los Angeles created a project for the students in a graduate class (linguistics, I think) to collect color terms from different languages from all continents and from a wide ethnographic range. LA has people from all over the world, so much of the data collection was accomplished right in LA.

    The prologue to approaching this topic involves two points. (1) Languages vary dramatically among themselves as to how many basic color terms they have. (2) To obtain valid results, the research design had to define criteria for a hue/shade to be considered "basic", and it had to generate results that were consistent (ten French speakers in a room would all agree on what blue is) and reproducible (ask another ten French speakers what blue is and they'll agree with the first group).

    The methodological breakthrough was to seek to identify focal hues instead of ranges of hues. To show a subject a color spectrum and ask them to mark where red begins and ends was no good. It's impossible to say for sure, and every subject will have a different answer. So the researchers asked subjects, "what is the truest red, the 'reddest' red?"

    During the research, it would come out that for English speakers, "vermillion" was not a distinct basic hue, but just a variety of "red".

    By identifying each language's basic hues and their foci, the project made these astonishing findings, which have undergone only minor revisions since then.

    1. The number of basic colors recognized by human languages varies from two to eleven.
    2. All languages have, approximately, the same foci. That is, all study subjects (covering about 70 languages on all continents) whose language included "red" identified almost the same narrow strip of the color spectrum as the "reddest red", and likewise for all other hues.
    3. The list of basic colors is, almost without exception, added in the same order. That is, when you group languages according to how many basic colors they recognize, all 3-color languages have the same 3, etc. (All languages recognize black and white. The adding sequence up through the first seven is: red; green or yellow; yellow or green; blue; brown.)
    4. A language's number of basic colors correlates closely with how primitive or sophisticated its society originally was (before globalization). The only civilizations with more than seven basic color terms are the societies of East Asia and Europe.

    Numbers 2 and 3 (or number 2 on its own) killed the extreme version of the hypothesis of cultural relativism which had held wide sway among anthropogists, for it proved that in at least one little way, the neurology of vision, there are things that humans perceive that are hard wired into our brains. In this case, the color distinctions a community makes.
  12. GenJen54

    GenJen54 Senior Member

    Downright Pleasant, USA
    USA - English

    That's funny. To me, violet is a shade of purple.
  13. panjandrum

    panjandrum Occasional Moderator

    Belfast, Ireland
    English-Ireland (top end)
    Navy blue, dark blue - the exact colour is quite subjective within a broad range.
    Marine blue would be aqua blue - sea blue - for me.

    Fascinating - really fascinating.

    There are, I think, at least two perspectives on this.
    I'm sure that if you asked me to define the bluest blue I would pick something like the Wiki colour. But that is quite a specific situation.

    If I was told that Bill was wearing a blue suit, I certainly wouldn't expect it to be that colour - I would expect it to be much darker.
    If I was told that he had blue eyes, I would expect a completely different colour - much paler.
    If I was told that was wearing a blue tie, it could be anything from suit blue to eye blue, average - Wiki blue:)

    [Irisheyes' violet is probably the true violet of the Irish Violet - no messing about. It might be one of the shades of purple, but for sure it is a unique colour.]
  14. E-J

    E-J Senior Member

    Cambridgeshire, UK
    England, English
    My statement (and that of with gm9617d) was that navy blue is interchangeable not with "blue" but with dark blue. A blue that is dark enough to be confused with black will be referred to as "navy blue", yes.
  15. gm9617d Senior Member

    Dear Dalec,
    When I made the comments about dark blue and navy blue, I was referring to usage and not to the precise nature of the two colours. In Britain, people tend to use the two colours without distinction.

    As far as comparing the colours on the web sites that you suggest, don't you think that the colours that people are seeing will depend on the quality and the adjustment of the computer monitor that they are using? Indeed whether they are seeing 16 bit colour or one of the other colour standard would surely be relevant.

    I think you run the risk of misleading non-native speakers of English when you say that "dark blue" is not a basic colour term in English. What you say is certainly true in the context of how you define the term "basic colour". I would point out that the OED does recognise "dark blue" as a colour term in English. Anyway, as the French say, " Les gouts et les couleurs... "
    Happy Days
  16. irisheyes0583 Senior Member

    San José, Costa Rica
    English (USA)
    I'm sorry; let me clarify. "To me, violet is a certain shade of purple." :)
  17. DaleC Senior Member

  18. panjandrum

    panjandrum Occasional Moderator

    Belfast, Ireland
    English-Ireland (top end)
    I think this thread is at risk of over-analysis and of pseudo-scientific pontification. The allocation of names to colours, as in the 216 colour Webmaster palette, has surely no scientific basis - no more than the paintshop's descriptions.

    All of which is really only so much waffly words.

    Navy blue is surprisingly light - go find a sailor to check this out.
  19. Tamlane Member

    South-Western Ontario
    English, Canada
    I agree. We'll find that, in language study, the ways one language divides or names the visible colour spectrum are very different. English just has... lots of different names for the lots of different colours we recognize. Some other languages may only recognize colours as 'light' or 'dark'. That is to say that every colour that we recognize in English is called only 'light' or 'dark'. Red may be dark, green, brown... Orange maybe be dark, and yellow and blue. The point is it's not something that is scientific. An example that may be more easy to grasp would be the use of the word 'glas' in Welsh to refer to the colour of growing things, as well as blue, 'gwyrdd' for green (but not for the colour of growing things, and not for shades of green that are in English referred to as shades of blue), and 'llwyd' for some shades of grey and for shades of brown, that would have different distinctions in English.

    I suppose what I'm getting at is that it's really hard to name colours across languages, especially when the languages may not have the same words or ideas attached to the colours.

    This aside, the 'roygbiv' idea works for speakers of English, and yes, 'purple' is more commonly used than 'violet' to refer to any shade of purple, but we do learn the rainbow as 'roygbiv'. Also, indigo would be the correct choice for the shade, at least on a rainbow, between blue and violet.
  20. DaleC Senior Member

    Several shades of blue are used from top to bottom in the layout of this page. Most of them are some dark blue or other -- but none of them are navy blue or indigo.

    It's called blue. Specifying "dark" blue can distinguish it from sky blue (or from related shades "baby blue" and "powder blue"), and I would like to suggest this is a major reason for the "dark" specification. The boxes on this page are backgrounded with a shade of "light blue". "Blue" seems to span a wider range than our other basic colors, which could be another reason for all the effort to distinguish between the dark and the light.

    As for violet vs. purple, here's a clue about the difference from WordReference English to French :
    purple (color: more red) pourpre
    purple (color: more blue) violet

    Violet is part of the rainbow. Purple, along with, say, brown, is not.

    The international, venerable rainbow was serving as our point of departure. When teaching the rainbow, both the English speaking and the French speaking distinguish between blue and indigo. Therefore, what's the sense in insisting that "dark blue" and "navy blue" are interchangeable -- navy blue being almost identical to indigo?

    Navy blue is much closer to indigo than to prototypical ("focal") blue. And, navy blue is renowned as a name for a clothing color. We're trying match English color names to the rainbow and to clothes -- let's not undo our work as we proceed.;)

    This link displays purple, navy, and blue:
    Includes the advisory: " The actual color values below are correct, but the actual sample colors displayed are incorrect due to lack of gamma correction." For colors with gamma correction, see

    The reasons for giving technical detail were to try to allay the subjectivity in some respondents' color perceptions, and to respond to a particular question. Besides, when somebody confuses lavender with indigo, then for Chrissake, something needs to be said. :D
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