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Gwen's Spot

04 August 2006

Light Red vs Pink: In Which Gwen Clears Up A Common Misconception

The way the English language works in regards to colors is this: there are the three primary colors (red, yellow, and blue), which each have their own names; there are the three secondary colors (orange, green, and purple) which can be made by an equal mixture of two primary colors; then there are white and black. When you mix one of these base colors with the color right next to it in frequency, or red and purple, the name of the new color is the primary color hyphen secondary color. (So if you mix orange with yellow it's yellow-orange.) When you mix white with any of the basic colors, the name of the new color is "light" name of color--blue plus white equals light blue, for instance. This isn't news to most people.
Some of the mixes have special names--turquoise or teal for blue-green, for instance (not a perfect example because there are two names depending on which of the two mixed colors the color shades toward). White plus black equals grey (or gray). We don't call it "light black" (unless it's much more black than white), but it still is.
So here's the question: when you mix white and red, do you get pink or light red? My answer is both, because they're the same thing. (For the sake of simplicity, I'm ignoring impure pinks like hot pink; it's no more pink than magenta is red. If you consider your basic pink, it's made from red and white. As is light red.) Not everyone agrees with me. My brother, for instance, who in the middle of our discussion of pink or light red appealed to the authority of The Parents, who also think that pink and light red are different colors. Dad's argument was that if I saw something the color of what he was pointing to, would I tell someone that it was pink or light red? Although I have, in the past, answered "light red" just to prove my pink-is-light-red point, the most concise answer was obviously pink. "Light red" is simply not used often enough for the average listener to understand what color was being referred to without pausing to think a second (and even then I'd probably get an answer of "you mean pink?").
What does that point prove?
Well, it does prove that in a case in which two words or phrases could be used to describe the same object, most speakers of English prefer one over the other, but that's not exactly a new observation. In my experience, most people prefer the word "sunrise" to the word "dawn" (except in set phrases like "the crack of dawn") but that doesn't mean that they refer to different phenomena. In fact, an argument based on what one person would be more likely to use when describing something is extremely fallible; if I pointed to an ape and asked somebody to tell me what it was, I'd probably get "monkey" fairly often, even though apes are not in fact monkeys. (File that tidbit of information in the folder marked "it's Istanbul, not Constantinople.") Tap versus faucet. Just because people on this side of the Atlantic might use "faucet" more often than "tap" (except, again, in set phrases like "on tap" or "tap water") doesn't mean that they refer to different objects.
The real test is "if you couldn't use the more common word for something, and you were to indicate that something to someone else, would you use the other term, and would you be understood?" Not in the charades "oh she must be saying bottle because she hasn't been fed for so long" way that barely-verbal children can make themselves understood; no pointing, maybe over the phone. (There's another one; telephone versus phone, T.V. or tube versus television, even wire versus telegram.) If I were to describe my "light red" shirt to my best friend in California, would she know what color I was talking about? If I were to yell to someone in the other room that the tap wasn't working right, would they understand me? Heck, that test even shows that we could get rid of most of our color vocabulary (like that one language, with as small of a vocabulary as possible; it had words for "light/white," "dark/black," "red," "yellow," and "blue," and that was it). Instead of "light green" we could say "light blue-yellow" or "light yellow-blue" and after a moment of thought, most people would understand what color we were referring to.
And my argument (show me something that is "light red" that isn't "pink") fell on deaf ears; frankly, for me, anyone who claims that light red is a different color than pink is, yet can only show me things that are pink, is not all that convincing.
And my final proof: I went to Paint, found the color editor, and started playing around. (If I'd had actual meatworld paint, this would be a better proof, because I'd have my primary colors as my base colors instead of red, green, and blue, but whatever. Go get some watercolors and mix red with white.) To make the perfect color for the base colors, you put it at 255 with the others at zero--"perfect" blue is red-zero, green-zero, blue-255. To lighten it, you pull the little slidey thing on the vertical bar on the right, or you manually change the other two base colors equally (upward)--so that a lighter blue could be 150-150-255. Light green could be 150-255-150. So light red would be 255-150-150. Guess what the color with those numbers looks like?

11 Meepage:

Anonymous Kathy meeped..., light red, that's not what the problem was with this discussion. It was about setting someone up to be wrong, just so you can say that they are wrong and you're right. I'll still never call it light red, but I also know to avoid these types of "dicsussions" with you, where Adam just hasn't had enough experience yet to not walk into the trap. ;0)

P.S. Pink rocks. Light red...not so much. teeheehee

verification word: ljhiy have fun!

04 August, 2006  
Blogger Amanda meeped...

Sorry, Jenn - I've never heard of light red. Ummmm...I have the feeling I'm missing out on an important contributing factor to this discussion...Love ya!

31 August, 2006  
Anonymous Christine meeped...

According to Merriam Webster's Collegiate Dictionary, Pink is defined as: any of a group of colors bluish red to red in hue, of medium to high lightness, and of low to moderate saturation.

On the other hand, the phrase light red (or any other color for that matter) does not occur in the dictionary. Therefore, light is only an adjective decribing the noun, in this case the color red.

23 September, 2006  
Blogger john patrick meeped...

when you mix red light with white light you get light red light.

when you mix red paint with white paint, you get pink paint.

Depends on the medium.

25 September, 2006  
Anonymous Anonymous meeped...

I accept your point that very light reds are pink, but it's all relative. If you set the rgb sliders to around R:255, G:65, B65 on my monitor you still have something I'd decribe as red, and not pink, but compared to the pure color it's much lighter. you can also get much darker reds than the pure color e.g. R:140, G:0, B:0.

To me light red is that borderline color just before red becomes pink, but compared to light blue for example it doesn't have much of a range. But the term would be a lot more useful when comparing colors i.e. it's a light red rather than a dark red.

29 January, 2008  
Anonymous Anonymous meeped...

Being an artist, you cannot limit yourself to there being only one color between red and white. It really depends on how much white you add. 95% white and 5% red may be considered a 'light pink'. 95% red and 5% white could be called 'rose'. Then there's an orangy red and a blue red, which would completely change the color you end up with. An orangy red mixed with white might be 'salmon', not 'pink'.

There are millions of shades of colors out there, and people might find a different name for each one of them (look at the names on paint swatches in hardware stores...they may call light red "child's blush").

Point is, who cares what you call it? It is what it is.

29 October, 2008  
Anonymous madaco meeped...

actually there is no wavelength of light that corresponds to pink. to see pink, your eyes actually have to detect two different wavelengths in the same/pretty much the same, place.

pink is not corresponding to a wavelength, red is.

they are different.

06 December, 2010  
Anonymous Patrick C meeped...

About that Monkey comment. Few people like to admit it, but if you study evolution you know Ape's are monkeys because they deviated from them, just like Humans are Apes and also therefore monkeys. A video you might want to check out

30 March, 2012  
Anonymous Anonymous meeped...

Pink is not in the rainbow because in the color spectrum of light, it is actually a mixture of blue and red, not white and red. Mixing paint is different from mixing light. There's an excellent write-up about it here:

24 July, 2013  
Anonymous Anonymous meeped...

I have thought the very same thing! That's how I found your article. I wanted to know why with the other colors when you add white to them, we still call them their original color but with the word "light" in front of them or maybe another descriptive adjective. Like "light blue" or "baby blue" or "sky blue". All are still considered blue one would argue that.

So why does pink get it's own distinction? Why do we seem to see it as a totally different color than red? I'm not going to talk about the colors of light because those are so different from paint and what we see when we look at actual objects. But, if you mix red and white paint you get PINK! So why isn't it light red or baby red? And, why do people not recognize the term "light red" as pink? And, why do so many seem kinda angry when you post an article about it?

I'm with you....light red IS pink! Medium red would probably be what some here have referred to as light red. I think after medium red you would start getting into pink territory. (although I haven't tested that theory with

01 July, 2015  
OpenID kdvb1 meeped...

I'm with you and Anonymous from July 2015. I have often wondered this too. I don't understand why we call it pink and see that color as distinct from red. We don't do it with most of the other colors.

We sort of do it with orange we call it light orange or peach? When I think about it, I usually do think of peach as having a hint of pink in it.

Soooo....I just looked up all kinds of pics of light orange(to test this) and to me they were in the peach family. Having said this....even though they are in the peach family, I do see peach as in the orange family. Ok...did I just contradict myself?

Still different than red and pink. Even though I know rationally that pink is light red, I have a hard time seeing it as in the red family.

What about brown and beige? Beige should be called light brown shouldn't it? Although it's like red and pink again. Light brown is still seen as a slightly lighter version of brown rather than beige, just like light red is seen as a slightly lighter version of red rather than pink. Although, we do think of them in the same color family.

Hmm...unless we apply it to skin color. People say we have different skin colors and put us in different races due to skin color mostly(there are other attributes in the mix). In reality we are all the same color, but we are different shades. If I go to the paint store and get color swatches I'm going to have a brown on one end, lightening to a beige. Or vice versa depending on how they made the swatch. So in reality, we are all in the brown family!

What's funny is that I don't know why you got such flak from family and friends about this. It makes perfect sense that if we add white to red and get pink that makes pink the same as light red(since that's what we do with most of the other colors). Doesn't mean we are going to all start calling pink as light red...but isn't it an interesting concept? I think so! So much that I googled it and found your article! ;-)

04 October, 2016  

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