or, stuff that I dragged out of my head

Location: Moncton, New Brunswick, Canada

Thursday, July 12, 2007

Well Red

I was playing around in Colourlovers and tagging some of my colours (the better to help others search for them) when I ran across this one, straightforwardly called Russet. The tags I applied to it were "red russet rust", and naturally enough that got me to thinking: surely "rust" and "russet" must be related? They're practically the same word!

As it turns out, they are related, but not in the way that seems most obvious; neither word is the predecessor of the other, because they both arrived independently into English from different source languages amid a swarm of other red words.

They do, however, have the same root: the Indo-European "reudh-", "red". Through the Germanic tongues, this led to "red" (compare with modern German "rot") and also "ruddy", "red-complected", as well as to "rust".

The rest of the red words in English travelled first through Latin "russus", "reddish brown", which obviously gave us "russet" through French "roux"/"rousse", respectively the masculine and feminine forms of the adjective meaning "red-haired". (Through French we also get another red word, "rouge".) Another Latin variant of "russus" was "ruber", giving us both "ruby" and "rubella", otherwise known as German measles, and yet another was "rufus", giving us not only the name Rufus but also "rufous", "red-tinged". And finally, one more Latin variant, "robus", the red oak, led to English "robust", literally "strong as an oak tree".


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