green

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natural variation in greens

Green is not a simple color. Kermit famously felt some existential angst about it. For us humans, there’s a funny split in our experience of green. Most of us can perceive more hues of green than any other color. That’s because the color waves lie right in the comfortable middle of the spectrum we can see. On the other hand, green is the color most likely to not be seen, or not seen well, by people with color blindness. Five to 8% of the population, mostly men, have red-green color blindness, followed by green-blue color blindness.

(Color-blind people, however, are not without their own color superpowers: they can distinguish many more shades of khaki that the rest of us! How cool is that?)

As an avid gardener and overall nature-loving person, I’m drawn to the restfulness of varied hues and shades of greens. While chartreuse, on its own, is attention-getting but nauseating, a little bit mixed in with other hues can be lush and botanical.

While green can give a feeling of health, freshness, growth, and nature, it, like all colors, can also symbolize the flip side of those messages. Money, illness, greed, pollution, bad smells, and, of course, beer-soaked St. Patrick’s Day celebrations can be evoked through the use of green.

Movies and TV shows set in the past, such as The Imitation Game, Downton Abbey, and Boardwalk Empire have sets and costumes drenched in gorgeous green hues. It was a big color of the 1940s but is now often used to give a general sense historicity, or, in the case of Harry Potter, difference and magic.

The recent trend in coloring hair green (as well as blue and pink) underscores the color’s ability to emphasize artificiality and quirkiness. This may mark an end of an era of over-using green to symbolize environmentalism (“Go green!”). It’s often better to try a different and more sophisticated palette to evoke that theme nowadays.