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Nacreous and Raddled: Reasons for Sighs and Groans

My dear sister visited us a couple of weeks ago, and I made the mistake of serving her coffee in my Shakespearean Insults Mug.  It’s an hilarious mug, covered with witty insults such as “I do desire that we be better strangers,” and “not so much brain as ear wax.”  Who couldn’t love something made by a company called “The Unemployed Philosophers Guild” and that tells you on the bottom of the mug that “for best results, use other side?”

Unfortunately, my sister started addressing me as the “anointed sovereign of sighs and groans.”  My wife, whose more formal British etiquette forbade her from using the mug, insulted me with the same phrase today.

Some might say that I have little to sigh and groan about.  I have a beautiful wife who is a gourmet cook and whose health insurance covers me.  I come from a loving family, am physically healthy, have a nice home with friendly neighbors and a great teaching job.  God loves me, forgives my sins and helps me live more uprightly, although admittedly I could use a little more help on that last point.

Still I have two grounds for sighs and groans.  You can call me “the anointed sovereign,” if you wish, but I think these two are justifiable.  They’re the chaos of colors and unhelpful dictionary definitions.

Now I love colors as much as the next guy, but that’s just the issue.  Women seem to have some extra sense for perceiving different shades of color.  We’ve been remodeling in our house, and my wife wanted me to help choose the paint colors.  First, there was some sort of set of golden colors, although they all looked brown to me.  The living room needed to be painted.  I asked why.  She said there were three different colors on the four walls.  They all looked like weak coffee with a lot of cream to me or some kind of off white.  Out came the swatches.  Did you know that one website has fifteen different types of off white?

I’ve been told that the reason for all these different names for paint colors is because they’re copyrighted.  This is capitalism gone wild.  Where are all our totalitarian bureaucrats that want to standardize everything?  This is a field white unto harvest.  Notice Jesus said white. I’ll bet the grain wasn’t really white, but white was good enough for him.

I decided to retreat to my reading of Linda Proud’s Renaissance novel, Pallas and the Centaur.  Alas, I was cursed.  I should never have chosen a highly literate authoress.  I ran across two words that I didn’t know, both having to do with colors—raddled and nacreous.

Indeed, I was doubly cursed by my second bane—inadequate dictionary definitions.  “Raddled related to ruddle, to paint with ruddle.” “Ruddle, verb to mark or color with ruddle.”  Finally, ruddle as a noun is a red variant of ochre used for marking sheep and coloring.  This did end up being an interesting search.  I discovered that ruddle or red ochre was used to dye fabrics.  Its appearance in the novel was rather negative.  “The beauty of Florence is like cosmetic paint on a raddled whore.”  Red ochre for your rouge, ladies?

The dictionary problem reoccurred with nacreous.  In the novel a maid is described as nacreous.  The dictionary defines nacreous as “of, or pertaining to, nacre, resembling nacre.”  Not very helpful if you don’t know what nacre means.  It reminds me of the time when I wanted to see how my college Webster’s defined worldview.  It said “weltanschauung.”  This is German for “worldview.”  Anyway, nacre, I discovered, is “mother of pearl.”  The maid must have looked whitish, although which of the fifteen options for off white applied to her I cannot say.

Well, that’s enough from the philologer.  I’m going to leave and walk by our bathroom painted tropical nut.














2 thoughts on “Nacreous and Raddled: Reasons for Sighs and Groans

  1. I can see the differences in colors and probably tell you with some accuracy what the real pigment in them is called. The name of the color, or the hue, is usually derived from the pigments. Tropical nut is not a pigment or a hue, but I am sure it is made up of actual pigments like ochers, umbers, siennas and such. Maybe even a bit of bone black. Earth pigments are the cheapest, most lightfast and opaque pigments around. Cadmium reds and yellows, and cobalt blues are quite expensive, and the cadmiums are toxic heavy metals as well. Iron oxides are cheap and versatile, and are probably the red pigment in ruddle.

    I was going to guess that ruddle had something to do with red. Nacreous seems like it should be a rotting flesh green, but I was wrong about that. It is an excellent and disgusting sounding word. How can one work it into everyday conversation?

    When Dan played in the high school drumline, they had a large, arcane vocabulary to describe different kinds of sounds and different variants of the same sounds. I could not distinguish those differences, but they could. I could tell the difference between pitches and some of the differences in resonance and ring, and other things that I don’t know the words for. But the finer distinctions were lost on me. I did like the words, and liked the idea that they could tell the difference.

    Thanks for a fun post. And, by the way, you may plead y chromosome based color ignorance, but I’m not buying it. There are too many male artists around who can distinguish a couple dozen shades of white without breaking a sweat.

    1. Thanks, Barb. I’m actually teasing about men and women, although many of us husbands do struggle with all of the different hues. Our art teacher at Cair Paravel is a man and a practicing artist. Because of the novels I’m reading we’ve had discussions about the practice of Renaissance art. He says that he regularly mixes his own paints so as to get the precise color he wants to use.

      Your comments on your ability to see colors, which is less developed than your ability to distinguish sounds, reminds me of what E.F. Schumacher says in his book A Guide for the Perplexed about differing human capacities.

      Once I got to ruddle from raddled I thought of a ruddy complexion and so figured out that it must mean some kind of red.

      I am going to use “papaverous” from my first post when I introduce my course to the freshmen and say that I hope my classes do not have a papaverous quality.

      Take care, and thanks again for the comments.

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