True Colors


One of the first things that a young child learns is the names of the colors. There are seven colors in a rainbow. Quick. How many can you name? They are red, orange, yellow, green, blue, indigo and violet (mnemonic device ROY G. BIV). But a rainbow is just one phenomenon in our phenomenal world. Did you ever wonder the TOTAL number of colors which exist in our beautiful and colorful world?

To determine the actual number of existing colors, I consulted a color expert–Crayola. Would you believe that there are over 200 colors Crayola has produced? And we thought that the 64 pack of crayons to color with was a huge number.


But Crayola is, let’s face it, producing colored crayons mainly for kids. How many colors are recognized/offered by companies producing color products for adults? Correct answer? Too many. I learned this answer firsthand during a remodeling project where I had to pick out paint colors from a handy Sherwin Williams color sample book. There were 50 pages each showing five different colors, i.e., 250 colors. The vast majority of these colors were ones of which I’ve never heard–Urban Putty; Toasted Pine Nut; Sea Serpent; Knitting Needles; Hinoki, etc. The ones I had heard of, I did not think were paint colors. Don’t you eat Borscht? Wear Cargo Pants? Ask for a drink On The Rocks? Pray for Patience? Run on the Jogging Path? And that’s just the sample book I was given. If you go on the Sherwin Williams website, the company boasts of over 1,500 colors–154 shades of red alone. Aren’t we taking things a bit too far on this color adventure?


Well, apparently not. According to psychophysicists (people who study human responses), the total number of colors a human can see is TEN MILLION. Wow! I’d like to see that Sherwin-Williams color palette. It would be thicker than a New York City phone book (if such things still exist).

Assuming we could even come up with ten million color titles, would the average person be able to identify each one? If, as Cyndi Lauper croons, we show our “true colors,” how many would we need to show? And how specific do we need to be about our color? If we say we are blue, is that sufficient? Would we need to specify if we were Santorini Blue, Deep Sea Blue, Turkish Tile or Blue Crush (per Sherwin Williams)? Is the color of money just green? Perhaps is is really Green Sprout, Agate Green or Olive Grove? (Again per Sherwin Williams.) When the leaves turn colors in the fall, will all the leaves on one tree be the same shade of red? Will some be Habanero Chile while others are Antique Red? Does Sherwin Williams need to branch out (pun intended)into a fall foliage line?

The fashion world has already caused me to suffer with color confusion. Last spring marsala was the “it” color while cobalt is apparently making a splash this fall. Silly me. And I thought that you drank marsala. My bad. You clearly WEAR it. And I wouldn’t be able to pick out a cobalt piece of clothing in my closet if my life depended on it (assuming I even had one in my closet). I purchased some nail polish whose color was labeled “Invisible.” Is it even a color if you can’t see it?


Perhaps the answer to all this color chaos is found in the lyrics of Lauper’s “True Colors.” She sings that “True colors are beautiful like a rainbow.” A rainbow has a manageable number of colors–7. I wonder if we should go back to basics and deal with only the very basic colors. Did our lives suddenly become all that more meaningful when a 64 Crayola pack was available to us over a 24 pack? A bigger selection of colors is not always better. I mean, do we really need 50 shades of gray?


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