The Primary Colors: Three Essays – Alexander Theroux

“Brent Berlin and Paul Kay in Basic Color Terms demonstrate exhaustively and empirically, the very simple thesis that anywhere in the world, as a language develops and acquires names for color, the colors always enter in the same order. The most primitive are black and white. Then red. Then either green or yellow.” – Alexander Theroux, The Primary Colors

This is a brilliant book that will open your eyes to the world of colour. It’s a collection of three essays based on the primary colours: blue, yellow and red.


Coal Harbour, Vancouver

“Its odd strength but soft moody ethereality is yet another enigma in the colour.”

“It represents tradition, contentment, timelessness, fulfillment, fullness and lasting immemorial values.”


Flowers from Revelstoke, BC

“Yellow is vagueness and luminousness, both.”

“I once knew a young woman from Moorestown, New Jersey, whose voice, I used to think, was pale yellow, as enervatedly she droned on and on in her dull, unimaginative way.”


Chinese Dragon at Canada Day Parade, Vancouver

“Red is the boldest of all colors. It stands for charity and martyrdom, hell, love, youth, fervor, boasting, sin and atonement.”

“It is generally agreed that of all colors, red has the strongest chroma and the greatest power of attraction. It is at once positive, aggressive and exciting. It is strong, simple, primary.”

This is a very informative book; it taught me so much from categories such as literature, poetry, linguistics, art, history, religion, science, botany, mythology and culture. It was a fascinating read and has a lot of interesting personal anecdotes and references to literature and art that I will look up later. Alexander Theroux is extremely erudite and I found myself looking up words in a dictionary more than a few times.

It took a Google search for me to realize that Alexander Theroux is the brother of Paul Theroux, the famous travel writer, and thus the uncle of Louis Theroux, the journalist. What an incredible literary family!

On a side-note, inspired by Alexander Theroux’s quote about the young woman from New Jersey with the pale yellow voice, I asked the following question on Twitter: If your voice had a colour, what colour would it be and why?

A lot  of the answers were very interesting and I’ve included them below

  • Green. Mystique.Somehow the colour green has extremely interested me. Background history profound.
  • Pale blue-gray. I’m reserved but there is depth of color.
  • I would hope green, because that’s the middle colour of the visible spectrum 🙂 green is the universal fulcrum
  • Mine would be burgundy. Not vivacious and overt but not monotone or retiring, either.
  • RED in caps. Bold, courageous, aggressive, vivacious, unique. I speak my mind & I own what I say.
  • Voices vary in timbre and emotion. Joseph’s technicolour dream voice…
  • Mine is sunrise; a shift of color. As a child I had a brite voice of childhood. As a teen I barely spoke. Now, confident,
  • Caramel. Because it’s sweet but addictive, smooth but firm, has a glossy sheen and many slightly distinct tones
  • Burgundy. Deep and passionate.
  • Mine would be golden yellow. I’m often criticized for sounding too happy
  • I dunno, I hate my voice. Probably something like chartreuse or burnt orange LOL
  • Dark red…warm, full/deep, and sometimes intoxicating like wine 😉 lol
  • Smokey velvety blue with hints of deep red ochre. It has depth & range. lol
  • Probably something bright or neon… Powerful,stands out, carries itself, but could easily blend in when needed

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