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The Surprising Poetry of Persian Colors

Leyla Shams
February 05, 2014

The Persian language is an inherently poetic one- rather than being direct and functional (like English, for example), it is infused with metaphor, allegory, and song. This bleeds into the culture and rituals of Iranians (again, think of the tradition of Tarof), but is subtly present in everyday simple speech as well. A great example of this is in the naming of the colors. Rather than associate words purely with the corresponding color, the Persian words associate many of them with a greater concept related to that color, therefore immediately evoking a metaphor with each word. Again, these may be words you've used over and over again without ever thinking of them literally.

1. ābee, blue

abee, blue

The word āb in Persian means 'water,' so this word immediately conjures the depths of the ocean or the running of a stream.

2. sabz, green

sabzee, green

Sabzee is the Persian word for 'greens,' but it goes beyond even that. In Persian culture, greens are the life force. This is best represented in the wheatgrass placed at the center of the table during New Years to celebrate life, rebirth and recreation.

3. sooratee, pink

sooratee, pink

The word for face in the Persian language is soorat,' so this word conjures the gentle and soft sweet pinkness of human skin.

4. naranjee, orange

naranjee, orange

This word is taken directly from the Persian word for 'orange', although the same is true for many other languages such as English and Spanish.

5. banafsh, purple

The banafshé flower is a very important one in Persian culture, and is the flower from which the name of this color is directly derived from.

6. ghahveyee, brown

ghahveyee, brown

Ghahvé is the Persian word for coffee- brown, aromatic, and energy providing.

7. khākestaree, gray

The word for 'ashes' in the Persian language is khākestar- and that is where the Persian word for gray comes from.

8. sormeyee, navy blue

sormeyee, navy blue

Sormé is an old word for Kohl, seen here adorning the beautiful Cleopatra's eyes.

9. leemooyee, lemon yellow

leemooyee, yellow

Although the primary word for yellow is zard and this has no clear word associations, another common leemooyee comes from the word leemoo or lemon in Persian.

10. talāyee, gold

talayee, gold

Talā, or gold, is extremely important in Persian culture, and is where the word for the color 'gold' comes from.

11. noghreyee, silver

noghreyee, silver

Noghré is the word for silver in the Persian language, and also the name for this popular color in the Persian language.

There are quite a few colors in the Persian language that don't have corresponding concepts such as sefeed, seeyāh, ghermez, and zard. Learn more about these colors in Lesson 17 of Chai and Conversation.

Can you think of any colors that we're missing? Leave them for us in the comment section below.

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