From sophisticated elegance to evil incarnate, few colors conjure up such strong images as black. The origin of the word black stretches back to a group of tribes known as the Proto-Indo-Europeans. According to etymologists, these ancient groups likely used the rather un-elegant sounding word bhleg- to mean burn or gleam.

Etymology Of Black

As cultures evolved, bhleg- evolved as well. While it retained its original meaning, the word became phlegein in Greek and flagrare in Latin. However, the word started to take the road to its modern form through the English mother tongue, Proto-Germanic. These tribes, who inhabited Europe during the first millennium BCE, used the term blak-.

Old English speakers, the Anglo-Saxons, transformed the word into blaec and began to associate it directly with the color. At the same time, they were also using the word blac to mean white or bright. The words were so similar that translators are sometimes left scratching their heads as they try to determine whether the writer was describing something that was black or white.

Origin Of The Word Black Included Use A Verb And Noun, Too

Black was also used as a verb. For example, one 16th century text reads, “The paper will be blacked by smoke.” Around this time, the English people began to use it as a noun to describe professional mourners or a person with dark skin.

Origins Of The Word Black illustrated by black and gray rectangles

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Kate Smith
Kate Smith is an optimistic, expressive, artist, designer, writer and color fanatic. With her warm and witty style, Kate teaches you to clearly see, understand and be inspired by color. Then she guides you step-by-step to develop your own unique color sense-ability and achieve results you never dreamed possible.
  • Kris says:

    Do you have sources for this information? It’s all correct, as far as I know. I’m just curious about where you got the knowledge from.

    • Kate Smith says:

      I have an extensive library of color books (see books about color for the list) and most of this information came from those. I did have a very fastidious intern who confirmed the information for this and many other articles. She made a list of references but when she left we mistakenly deleted the files when setting up the next intern. I could probably figure it out again but just have never taken the time. Sorry to not be able to be more specific but am confident the information is correct.

  • Gibby says:

    Wow, that’s awesome, thanks for sharing and researching the origins of the word black. I’ve always wondered about it.

    • Kate Smith says:

      Thanks for your awesome comment, Gibby. You made my day that much more sensational!

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