[This post is part of Uni Watch’s 2023 Purple Amnesty Day content. For additional background and details, look here.]
I have excellent news for the world: Purple does not actually exist.
The exciting information comes from the website Interesting Facts, which recently published the following explainer:
Our eyes perceive color in the visible spectrum due to particular wavelengths: Red is the longest wavelength, at 700 nanometers, whereas violet is the shortest, at 380 nanometers. This is why the invisible wavelengths just below this threshold are known as ultraviolet, or UV rays (and why wavelengths directly above 700 nanometers are known as “infrared”).
The color purple, however, is what physicists call a “nonspectral color,” meaning it isn’t represented by a particular wavelength of light, but is instead a mixture of them as perceived by our brain. While some people use violet and purple interchangeably, the two colors are distinct; violet (which is part of the visible spectrum) has a more bluish hue, whereas purple is more red. The cones in our eyes receive inputs, and our brain uses ratios of these inputs to represent subtleties of color. Purple is therefore a complete construction of our brain, as no wavelength represents the color naturally.
A similar explanation comes from this video:
In other words, while purple is an extremely scary figment of your internal whatsis, there’s nothing to worry about because it isn’t actually real, sort of like the monster under your bed or the thought of the Cowboys ever winning another Super Bowl. There — don’t you feel better already?
Want to learn more fun facts about this terrifying color that doesn’t actually exist? Look here.
(My thanks to Jason Hillyer and Mic Foley for pointing me toward the Interesting Facts article.)
Thanks for that. I was going to make this exact comment but I figured that I should better click on every comment’s link first. Was not disappointed.
“Purple is how we see the combined light from the ends of the spectrum. And so it feels normal.”
Wow! I’ve been writing about a whole lot of non-existent mismatches these last few years.
Brown is also a color that doesn’t really exist (On your computer and RGB monitor/TV at least).
I knew even before clicking on your link which video it was going to lead to.
TL;DR: brown = dark orange
Do not sit in a dark room to see the orange grizzly. Highly recommended.
Hey Paul, did you know today is also the 120th birthday of Charles Brannock, creator of the Brannock device?
Seriously?! I did *not* know that. Amazing!!
How about a column next year dedicated to purple cars? Here’s my favorite: link
Of course, there is a difference between “color” in the light spectrum, and “color” in pigments/inks/etc. As we all know, in light, black is the absence of color and white is the combination of all. In pigments, white is the absence of color and black is the combination of all. Where purple fits in all of this, no one will ever know.
It’s all part of the pomp, the pageantry, of our wonderful, topsy-turvy, wiggly world!
“In other words, while purple is an extremely scary figment of your internal whatsis, there’s nothing to worry about because it isn’t actually real, sort of like the monster under your bed or the thought of the Cowboys ever winning another Super Bowl. There — don’t you feel better already?”
Wait, I thought purple isn’t something to be afraid of, but rather something that should be afraid of you?
Kidding all around. Have fun tonight!
Perhaps the finest way to cap Purple Amnesty Day here on the blog!
Minnesota Vikings need to change their colors to brown and yellow.
Stupid-yet-serious question: Is this why purple looks blue sometimes? I remember growing up watching the Lakers win their 2000s three-peat and wondering why their uniforms were blue. Same with the Diamondbacks in the 2001 World Series.
I think a lot of it has to do with lighting (and yes, multiple launderings…)
But both teams’ official colors certainly tend towards what we (or at least I) would call purple
According to Trucolor, the 2001 D-bax used Pantone 267: link
the 2000s Lakers used Pantone 526: link
The D-bax shade definitely has more blue in it. In fact the Lakers actually darkened their “Royal Purple” in 1999 and kept that shade until 2016. Their previous Royal Purple (Pantone 265) was used from 1980-1999. That was also referred to as “Royal Purple.” More interestingly, the team used Pantone 265 from 1976-1980. They called that “Forum Blue.” And prior to that (when they switched from “Royal” Blue), they wore Pantone 526 (which they also called “Forum Blue”). So they started dark(er), went lighter, then back to darker purple. But one would be hard pressed to say they were ever what we’d call “blue”. So, lighting/flash/camera, etc. all played a part.
For more on the Lakers (and their mismatched purples!), Kary did an outstanding piece in 2021: link
As a lover of purple and also a lover of language, I appreciated that Interesting Facts article about the origin of the color and its name. If you know that Greek word porphyra, you’ll know that this former Phillies and Cubs pitcher is literally Mr. Purple: link
Musician Mdou Moctar did a remake of sorts of Prince’s Purple Rain and in the language of the Tuareg people of Niger there is no word for purple, so the title translates to “Rain the Color of Blue with a Little Red in It.”
I now wonder if people who are colorblind (thus have difficulty distinguishing red from green) have a problem with distinguishing purple with a big amount of red in the mix?
My high school chemistry teacher back in the day insisted that we only use “violet”; if we said “purple” he would thunder “I KNOW NO PURPLE” in a deep rumbly voice.