Sunday, August 07, 2011

Travails of the Chromatically challenged

A large number (read as 2) of my blog fans have noticed that I have not been writing for a while. I wasn't aware that people can actually miss my online presence, but with two fans personally pointing that out to me, I am sure that my whole fan club is craving for more (and even if they are not .. I am still writing this post). Let me just say here that I have been too busy lately. Also I have not had any epiphanies of creativity to prompt me too start typing vigorously. However there is this one post that has been in my mind for a while so I think its time for me break my silence over this topic.

Humans have a very perceptive eyesight in that we can distinguish several colours unlike many animals who mostly see monochromatic shades. Thus when we see things around us we see several colours and have come up with several words to describe them. There probably are hundred or more words in our vocabulary just to name the colours. Then there are those of us who cannot describe so many colours, not because we lack the vocabulary, but simply because we lack the ability to attach a specific word to the colour that we see. I am not entirely sure if there is a word to describe this scenario. So I have come up the the phrase "Chromatically Challenged".

At the risk of sounding a sexist, I am going to put the claim that most men are chromatically challenged (at least I am one). I am not putting a percentage here as I do not have a scientific study to prove that. The rest of this article is purely a aggregation of my observations and experiences in this matter. Those who agree with me read on to find points to support this argument. Those who don't, read on and I hope by the end of the article you will agree with me.

A few years ago I used to travel quite regularly between Mumbai and Pune. Often a female friend of mine would be there in the bus and we ended up chatting about several useless topics. One of my first discussions around colours was with her. Somewhere within one such discussion I pointed out that most guys were not capable of describing more than 24 colours. She suddenly became defensive about guys and argued that they could do better.So we decided to start counting the colours that I could describe. The next half an hour was spent with me trying hard to go up to 25. She ensured that she threw enough names of colours to help me get to that point, however a lot of names almost fell on deaf ears as I couldn't distinguish the colours. I think eventually I stopped around 22 (and may I point that I tried very hard to go beyond that number). Ever since I have presented this argument to several guys and almost always my point has been validated.

I have been thinking about making my articles more interactive so I think it is now time to give an exercise to my readers. Please try naming the colours you can recognize. There are two simple rules here if you know a word as a color but you can't name it when you see it then it does not count. This rule is specifically for those intellectuals who think it is their duty to expand their vocabulary but by virtue of being chromatically challenged cannot use that expanded vocabulary to good effect. There is another rule - use of words light and dark prefixed to colors don't count as new colour names (go polish your vocabulary in this case).

Now time for exercise results :
  1. If you are a guy and scored more than 24 :
    You are artistically oriented (e.g. you like painting and thus know your colours), or the knowledge of additional colours has been enforced upon you by the significant women in your life (wife / girlfriend and in some cases mother, sister). In case of the enforced knowledge it could also be the case where you are in a profession which requires the knowledge of colours (e.g. you sell women's clothing). If you are the former than its time to consider giving up your well paying desk job (I don't think any real artists read my blog) and moving to become what you really dream of. Don't blame me though if you end up becoming broke. That will most likely happen as you would realize that your feeling of being artistic was also enforced upon you.
  2. If you are a guy and scored less than 24:
    Its perfectly normal. After all you are the subject of this blog.
  3. If you are a girl and scored more than 24:
    Don't worry its perfectly normal. It is your duty to teach the significant men (son, husband, brother) in your life to break the barrier.
  4. If you are a girl and scored less than 24:
    I didn't actually think that this category was practically possible. However since its a logical possibility I have to write something here. Either you are a girl who is in early stages of learning English (in which case you are really category 3 but only need to add a few words to your vocabulary to move there) or you are hypothetical.
Now comes the part when I did deeper into travails of the category 2 - aka the Chromatically Challenged aka men.

To start with I postulate that when it comes to colours it is the men who are the weaker sex.
Imagine when it comes to formal office clothes what are the options that we men have ?.
Full Shirt, pant, tie and sometimes the suit / blazer to make it very formal. Again the range of colours that is most popular here is very short- blue, black, white, brown, gray. When it comes to shirts they variety of colours can be expanded a little with entries like green,cream, yellow, orange , red etc. There are very few patterns and colours available really. It is almost as if the fashion world somehow conspired to give all men a uniform look. I know men in Uniform are supposed to look smart. However, compare that with females they simply have too many options not just in colours, but also in the variety of dresses that are acceptable in formals. In fact in India apart from generally accepted western formals, a whole lot of Indian traditional wear are also accepted as formals (e.g. Sarees, punjabi suits). Not the same case with men. The moment one of us men decides to walk in to office in an Indian traditional formal wear (like Kurta) it better be some festive occasion or you are going to get asked to explain your "informal" dressing.Of course since this article is about colours, the type of dressing is not quite the point, but you get the drift.

Coming back to the choice of colours (rather the lack of it), for a chromatically challenged individual though it is not that bad. It makes life so much easier when it comes to selecting the colours on anything (not just clothes, but accessories, electronics, cars etc). Imagine a person who can barely count more than a dozen colours having to make choice of one of 99 colours If you are a man its probably hard to believe that any product can have a choice of those many colours -so check this site from TVS Scooty. So in general we men are happy with our limited choices in colours but the problem starts when we have to go shopping with women.
Since I have sighted the Scooty as an example, imagine a guy shopping for his little sister so she can have a cool ride to her college. She pulls up the colour chart and picks 3 colours from that - Ruby, Toreador red and Rouge Babylone. Now perhaps women see them as 3 colours, but for us guys they are all red. So the little sister here is putting dear bro in a fix by giving him 3 choices - A - Red, B - Red,C- Red. Now when bro picks A, the next question will go something like why not B or C. Poor bro is now having justify why he picked A against B and C while in his mind he thinking "inny mini myna moe... whatever, lets just make the payment and take it home".

I know by now some of the ladies reading this article are thinking, "hang on - my husband / boy friend knows colours well. He always helps me in shopping with distinctive opinions on each choice". Lady don't be fooled. He is likely a very smooth lair. He must have also told you that he loves you like hell and you are the most beautiful woman and blah blah .
For the rest of the ladies its either shopping with your other female friends or having to one out of below possibilities (when shopping with your beloved)
  • a quick and decisive choice with no justification (because the guy is just busy with some gadget or wants to get home to catch the cricket match).
  • an eternity of confused indecision (case in point the choices between A,B,C above).
  • (can't think of other possibilities really ... guys enlighten me by putting some comments)
I think I have been rambling along, to the point of this article now becoming a bore. So I think I should end this article now, but as I do it, I will leave a cheat sheet of how chromatically challenged see some colours.
In the below list are the names for colours that are clearly seen by chromatically challenged individuals.
White, Black, Red, Green, Blue, Yellow, Pink , Orange, Violet, Gold, Silver, Gray, Brown, Indigo, Cream.
Yeah if you were counting that's just about 15 colours. Most other colours can simply be described by prefixing the above with the words "light" or "dark" or by denying that they are even colours. Men reading this blog you may stop here.
For the women who are still reading, here is a list of colours that you know and men don't (the words in brackets indicate how most men would describe those colours). Please spare us by not trying to teach us that difference between the 15 colours above and the rest. We are happy to use the words in brackets.
  1. Mauve (light violet)
  2. Lilac (light violet)
  3. Lavender (violet)
  4. Magenta (dark pink)
  5. Peach (that's a fruit not a colour... ok if you insist it is light orange).
  6. lime (light green)
  7. purple (indigo)
  8. Navy blue (dark blue)
  9. Aqua (other name for water .. .oh wait that's light blue)
  10. Sky (Sky is blue .. my teacher taught me that)
  11. Cyan (light blue)
  12. Mint (light green)
  13. Olive (that's a fruit not a colour)
  14. Tan (light brown)
  15. Beige (light brown)
  16. Maroon (dark red)
  17. Ruby (is a precious stone)


  1. Welcome back.
    Even me wana start with my writing again.

  2. interesting post i must say....and surely does remind me of a certain office incident around the colour "peach" as being the inspiration for this post.

    however, would've been more appreciative if the effort you put in to list the few feminine colours had been used to actually know more about them. :-P

    men surely maybe chromatically challenged just as women are technologically but I've seen a few of the female species putting a lot more effort to know more of those freaky gadgets (read sincerely) when they know it makes a difference to your better-halfs which is where men fall short.

  3. @A.M. The office "peach" incident wasn't the real inspiration although it provided the required stimulus and helped me think about material to add on this post.
    As far as the argument about making an effort goes ... here is my rebuttal .... men don't expect "technologically challenged" women to put that effort. We are happy assist you in your tech decisions or even make them for you. So don't expect us to be smart at colours. Its a futile waste of time.
    On a side note --
    Tech stuff now comes in multiple colours (e.g. Some laptops now come with replaceable lids with fancy colours). The laptop that I am using to write this post has two lids (black and one with weird pattern on a black background). Am sure this change was definitely to woo the non - tech savvy crowd.