The words “violet” and “purple” are often used interchangeably, but there are some key differences between the two colors. While both violet and purple fall into the same general family of colors, violet has a bluer tone while purple is closer to red. The variance extends beyond hue as well, including cultural and linguistic associations. This article will explore why people sometimes specifically say “violet” instead of using the more generic term “purple.”
The Origins of Violet vs Purple
The word “purple” is derived from the name of the purple dye obtained from mollusks known as murex or purpura, which was highly valued in antiquity. This dye produced a color between red and blue, which became known as “purple.”
The word “violet” has a more specific origin, being named after the violet flower. The violet flower has a bluer purple tone than the murex dye. So while both violet and purple occupy the spectrum between red and blue, violet skews closer to blue.
Violet as a Spectral Color
When defining colors by wavelength, violet refers to a specific spectral band. The visible light spectrum ranges from red at the long wavelength end (700 nm) to violet at the short wavelength end (380-450 nm). Purple is not actually present as a specific wavelength of light. This means violet can be defined more precisely than purple.
So when referring to the color occupying the shortest wavelength of visible light, the scientifically accurate term is “violet” rather than the generic “purple.”
Violet and Purple in Language
The English language has distinct words for violet and purple, but this is not the case in all languages. Some languages, like Italian and Spanish, have a single word that covers the range of colors from violet to purple.
In such languages, context makes it clear when the specific color violet is intended. But speakers of those languages who are learning English as a second language often use “violet” and “purple” interchangeably, not being accustomed to having two different words.
Beyond technical definitions, violet and purple also have certain cultural and symbolic associations. Purple is commonly associated with royalty, nobility, luxury, and ambition. Violet, being a lighter and cooler tone, evokes more delicacy, feminity, and spirituality.
Here are some examples of the symbolic differences:
So a speaker may choose to say “violet” instead of “purple” in order to evoke the unique connotations of lighter blue-purples.
Examples of Using Violet
Here are some examples of when a speaker might intentionally use “violet” rather than just saying “purple”:
– Describing delicate purple flowers like violets, lilacs, or lavender
– Evoking spiritual concepts like mysticism, imagination, or divination
– Describing certain shades of light purple like those associated with spring or romance
– In technical or scientific descriptions defining specific light wavelengths
– When differentiating from darker, richer purple tones associated with royalty
– To be more precise in industries like fashion, cosmetics, painting, or interior design
– In artistic contexts to set a lighter, cooler, more delicate purple tone
So in summary, the use of “violet” versus “purple” comes down to technical precision, cultural associations, artistic intent, and linguistic custom. Violet defines a specific spectral wavelength and avoids the generic vagueness of purple. It evokes a cooler, lighter, and more feminine energy compared to the power and luxury of true purple. And languages that lack distinct words lead bilingual speakers to sometimes interchange violet and purple. In the end, while they significantly overlap, violet and purple occupy different niches in language and culture.