• Sex, Color, Spelling, and Randall Munroe

    We all know Randall Munroe, the creator of the xkcd comic, is special, and I mean that in a good, geeky way. Today he took his obsessive quest for the sweet spot between science and entertainment to a new level. His report on the results of his color survey, in which “[o]ver five million colors were named across 222,500 user sessions,” is fascinating, and yes, fun too.

    Here’s an example. Notice that men don’t make as fine distinctions among colors as women (this is Munroe’s figure–I’m not endorsing his specific terms). There is a disagreement about the color men call “salmon” and women call a variant of “hot pink” (seriously?).


    I love this color-name map, except for the fact that the caption obliterates the lower left corner. (See comments by Kenneth Fair and Rick Dickson.)

    Then there’s the spelling problem:


    • What you are interpreting as the caption obliterating the lower left corner of the RGB graphic is actually an area that is not part of the RGB colorspace. The RGB colorspace is a cube. Randall’s graphic is three sides of that cube, flattened into an L shape. Imagine cutting out the graphic and then creating two folds, one through the green area and one through the blue. Then fold down those two flaps of the L so that the two “red” corners touch, making one-half of a cube. The other half of the RGB cube, containing the light colors including white, is not shown.

      I have drawn a cube and labeled the vertices below. My guess is this won’t actually come out as planned, but I’ll try it anyway:

      C ________ B
      / /|
      G/________/ | K
      | | |
      | | | P
      Y R

    • The caption doesn’t obliterate the lower-left corner of that diagram; it’s a 2-d representation of 3 sides of a 3-d color cube.

      Just imagine creasing the diagram in half both ways, and then cutting out the caption square. Now, fold the left flap and the bottom flap both down, and scotch-tape the edges where you cut out the caption together. That’s why “Maroon” extends from one section into the other….

      – Rick