Think you know what the word blue means? While in English it’s a broad word used to describe everything from shimmering waters to depressed feelings, the original word for blue didn’t mean the color blue at all.
To learn the origins of the word, word experts looked back through the millennia to the language of the Proto-Indo-Europeans, an ancient culture rooted in Central Asia and Eastern Europe. These people used the word bhle- to describe something that was light-colored. Some scholars suspect bhle- may have even meant “yellow.”
As people and their languages became more diverse, so did the words based on bhle-. Here’s a short list of the terms spawned by that simple four-letter word:
belyi – Russian for white
blawr – Welsh for gray
blanc – French for white or blank
blavo – Old Spanish for yellowish-gray
flavus – Latin for yellow
phalos – Greek for white
For modern English speakers, the word blue came from the Old English bleu, which was borrowed from Old French, the language spoken by the people of northern France during the Dark Ages.
An interesting trivia tidbit about the color blue is that many languages don’t use separate words for blue and green. Koreans, for instance, use the word pureu-da to describe both colors. Likewise the Thai word khiaw usually means green but can represent blue when describing the sky or the ocean.