Basque Fact of the Week: Basque Originally Didn’t Have Separate Words for Blue, Grey and Green

In modern Basque, there are words for blue, grey and green. However, only one of these, urdin, that is native to the language. While today urdin means blue, originally it also encompassed the colors grey and green.

  • Urdin, meaning grey, can be found in several phrases. For example, grey hair and beards are still often called urdin. And, the word for an old maid, motxurdin, has the sense of grey. Larry Trask described this word here.
  • As for green, there is a mushroom that is called gibelurdin. Gibel means back, so one might think that this word means “blue-underside,” but, as Larry Trask emphasizes, the actual mushroom has a green underside.
  • Other color words native to Basque are beltz (black), zuri (white), gorri (red), and hori (yellow). There are also words that describe shades of color more than a specific color, at least originally. However, all other words for specific colors are borrowed from other languages.

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