True Colors

Frustrating Choices

“I like that color,” said my wife, at the paint store. “Don’t you?”

“It’s brown,” I responded, rather indifferently.

“It’s more of a taupe, if you ask me.”

“Isn’t taupe really just brown?” I asked, puzzled.


Men have exactly 10 colors in our repertoire. We do allow for the fact that most colors offer varying shades of similar tones, but we don’t assign them their own names. That would be chaotic. Tan is brown. Burnt Sienna is brown. Brown is brown. Based on this, men have the ability to focus on more important things, like fantasy football and drinking scotch. Women, on the other hand, can identify 4,571 distinct shades of each color. My head hurts at the mere thought of having that responsibility.

I realized this as I was transitioning from childhood into early adulthood. Something heinous was afoot—a conspiracy between crayon manufacturers and young girls who wanted more coloring options.

I know that men weren’t involved in this desire for more colors because the names of these new‐fangled shades are too benign and innocent. Men would have given them more provocative names, like beer gold, 2 × 4 brown, dunked‐on orange, blood red, and snow blower gray.

When I was eight years old and needed crayons, my parents purchased the 8‐pack for me. In this pack were the standards: green, red, black, blue, brown, orange, yellow, and purple. Life was simple. Fast forward several years to when my daughter was eight years old. We got her a 120‐pack of crayons. Weird names like mango tango (which is really just orange), razzmatazz (which is really just red), and inchworm (which is really just green). There’s no reason to go further down this rabbit hole— though I’m certain there is a color called rabbit hole, which is really just brown.

I can just imagine a thousand little girls crying in school when their artwork is judged by teachers who have grown up using a million different shades of the same color. “That’s okay, little Suzy, but instead of using the banana mania crayon to color the sun, perhaps you should’ve used the mango tango one.”

Little Suzy responds with a sobbing whimper and vows never to buy a coloring book again.

So, how did we get here? I wish I knew. If I did, I would go back in time and correct this.

I knew that we, as a society, were off the rails a few years ago when I heard a couple engaging in a heated discussion in the paint section of Home Depot. They were arguing over different shades of white. Different shades of white!? He wanted white. She wanted egg‐shell white. I cried for our country that day.

The other night, I was in the car with my eleven‐year‐old daughter. A report on the radio mentioned a prominent clothing company releasing an obsidian women’s Hijab to wear while participating in athletics.

“What’s obsidian?” asked my daughter.

“I think it’s a volcanic rock.”

“Why would they wear a rock on their heads while running?”

“I think they are referring to the color of the Hijab in this case, which is black.”

“Why don’t they just call it black?” she asked me, annoyed.

I couldn’t answer her and that bothered me. However, I was glad that she was asking the question. There is hope for our future after all.

16 thoughts on “True Colors”

  1. Add to this the fact that 1 in 12 men are colorblind … it’s no wonder there are so many fights in the paint section of your local home improvement stores.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. As an old friend of the family,a retired art teacher, and advocate for art education, I take EXTREME insult by your comments within this essay. Let’s start with art is older than the written word,or that the glyphs created on cave walls became the structure for letters and sounds with meaning. You deserve a spanking little Josh! Try limiting yourself to 10 words…I know you can’t…the world can not be limited to 10 colors. This is what’s wrong with education, let’s cut art…we don’t need to know anything about color. Bah!!!!! Someone with scientific reasoning should know the value of color in understanding silly investigation like the color of radioactive and dying cancers…or comparing the stages of the death of a star…Go ahead and squash ART and artists more… unfortunately for you, we will prevail. And by the way not all artists and colorist are women. People like you should cherish the arts, all arts, in defense of your own art. Maybe you need a positive experience in an art class with a teacher who loves art as much as life itself. ME!😇 I still love you Josh, but I am too stirred up with the political climate and attack on the humanities in DC right now. Please, not you too.. Be our champion, not our adversary.💗🌼💜🌻💚


    1. I’ve taken a few art classes as an adult. [In junior high and high school I took music, because all of my friends did.]
      Your comment reminded me to get out my art supplies and create something! It’s really enjoyable.
      Agreed about the proposed budget, too. 😦

      Liked by 1 person

  3. Obsidian is black. Deep, deep black, without a hint of blue or yellow. And shiny. I have no idea why one would want to design a shiny hijab for athletic competitions.

    On the larger question, the ability to distinguish between fine shades of anything is both an ability and a skill, and I don’t think it’s gender based. When we were in eighth grade, we competed fiercely to name the colors our overmatched English teacher tinted her gray hair: grass-stain green, foxhole yellow, blueblood blue. As I recall, the suggestions came from both boys and girls, and there was quite a buzz every time she turned up with a new tint.

    If you have no interest in color, however, you won’t bother to notice shades. When the subject is something you care about–say, craft beer–you may be capable of discerning minute differences and damning a myriad of shandies-in-disguise.

    Thanks for a fun read. Now I’m going to draw and color a unicorn with my 64-pack of Crayolas, the 50th anniversary edition with the cool colors that Crayola no longer manufactures. I may turn to my oil pastels if needed, or my 50-pack of colored pencils.

    Liked by 1 person

  4. Josh, this is hilarious!

    From a phone conversation with my Dad, a few months ago when I happened to be at a yarn store:
    Me: I’d like to make a scarf for Mom.
    Dad: She loves lavender.
    Me: There are a lot of yarn colors! Which would be better: a lavender with more grey, pink, or blue tones?
    Dad: “Lavender.”

    This still makes me smile. 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

  5. As always, very funny. I suggest you get one of those paint color charts. The kind that are almost as long as a ruler, attached at the bottom with the ability to spread it into a color “fan”. That’ll drive you nuts. We just hired a painter to paint some of our rooms. I had that color fan spread open, in the sunroom to get the full sun, trying to discern between shades of yellow. More like “hay” or “autumn blonde” or “croissant” or “summer khaki”….(you get the idea). The bigger question is, who picks those names and imagine having that job!!

    BTW, my middle son is color blind and we didn’t know it until he was about 3. We lived in CA at the time and I’d ask the common mother question “what color is the grass?” and he would respond “brown”. Well, yes, it was brown, drought and all but what color is grass? Brown. I thought he was being a wisenheimer even at that age (which he still is). It wasn’t until he was tested during a physical that we found that out. Poor kid! He would love to be able to distinquish in shades of red or yellow….


  6. I actually a wide range of colors and am not at all color blind, but this trend in obscure color naming one of my bêtes noires. This is most annoying in clothing catalogues, where the lighting or photo reproduction can be misleading anyway. Please, PLEASE, don’t tell me that sweater is “ceolacanthe”! I need to know if it’s gray, blue, black, green, brown, purple, etc., before I can buy it. Thank you, Josh, for standing up for the common man/woman!


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