Green or Blue?

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Green or blue?

Digging into words can be tricky

And not everyone agrees with the theories about how words mean, which can drive you crazy.

The most basic, common-sense idea is that people who hear messages invoke their own sense of what they mean.

We each interpret meanings differently–you may think of a childhood game if I say, bat, while I might be thinking about a flying mammal.

But we also share meanings in common.

We’re probably thinking the same thing if I say, That guy is a real jerk.

My watercolor teacher was musing about language, colors and culture this week.

He pointed out colors on my paint palate and said a tribe in New Guinea couldn’t distinguish green from blue.

Tribefolk have one name only for green and blue, he said.

They don’t see the difference.

I bristled.

Sounds like something an anthropologist visiting the tribe wrote in her notebook.

My uncle says the word for blue and green is the same in old Lakota.

But it’s not because we can’t see the difference: it’s because there’s just one name.

My uncle–who is Sioux, Osage and Winnebago (Ho Chunk)–gave me my name.

He calls me Esta-Toto.

That means Blue Eyes.

I asked my Indatsay (our word for Uncle), what if my eyes were green?

He said the word for green is the same as the word for blue.

An outsider might assume that tribefolk can’t distinguish green from blue.

My watercolor teacher claimed native people see differently.


Esta-Toto means my eyes are not-brown.

Words can be tricky: they don’t always mean what you think.

11 September 2017



Image downloaded with permission from”>Vintage vector created by Freepik


About Cynthia Coleman Emery

Professor and researcher at Portland State University who studies science communication, particularly issues that impact American Indians. Dr. Coleman is an enrolled citizen of the Osage Nation.
This entry was posted in american indian, authenticity, communication, Indian, Lakota, native press, Native Science, nativescience, Osage and tagged . Bookmark the permalink.

2 Responses to Green or Blue?

  1. Cynthia, in art school we spent weeks with a Color-Aid pack, discussing the “true” color of each sheet of paper. Of course, what we were really doing was learning a set of descriptors for basic colors and their combinations. After a while I could look at a color and say what colors were used to create it, and their approximate amounts. That turned out to be a crucial art school skill.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. That and crayola colors, right?


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