More Etymologies

Just because I was curious, I checked the OED to figure out the etymology of the English brown. What surprised me was just how complicated and involved that etymology was. Its first meaning in the dictionary is actually "Dusky, dark. (Now only poetic, and regarded as transf. from sense 2.)"; the second sense of the word is the way in which we commonly use brown:
The proper name of a composite colour produced by a mixture of orange and black (or of red, yellow, and black), and varying greatly in shade according to the proportion of the constituents, as a red brown, yellowish brown, dark brown. Brown is the colour produced by partial charring or carbonization of starch or woody fibre, as in toasted bread or potatoes, peat, lignite, withered leaves, etc
In other words, there's an actual physical process at work to give us the color that we commonly or otherwise automatically think of as brown. If yesterday's etymology was wondering at the way in which Turkish depends on a physical referent - coffee - to derive the adjective, what I'm realizing today is that our own usage is at least as derivative. It's just that the word brown doesn't carry - at least visibly - the compound meaning at work in the Turkish word.

But what's even more interesting is that the farther you cast back into the word's etymology, the more problematic brown becomes: It shares a root with burnish; even more distantly, it seems to be related to beaver. That brown might be, in some way, related to the color of a beaver's pelt is almost too fabulous to believe, but suggestive all the same.

And returning to burnish: At one point, there was a certain degree of consonance between something browned and something burnished, insofar as they were both held to reference something that shone.


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