English has spent centuries collecting words. Many, many, many of those words describe colors. Given the number of color terms, and their often fleeting nature, it can be hard to keep track of when these terms came about. For example, I was somewhat surprised to learn that Shakespeare would have been fully familiar with the terms 'umber' and 'ochre', but not with 'brindled' or 'buff'.

Of course, some words are a bit iffy, having been in use for decades, or even centuries, before they were documented as a term specifically to refer to colors, such as 'lily' and 'bronze'. Many, such as 'cobalt' and 'ultramarine' come from the names of dyes; in some cases (such as 'indigo') the use of these specifically as color terms trailed significantly behind their recognition as dyes. This makes it hard to pin down exactly when a color term first appeared as a color term.

While some terms have been with us since the days of Old English, others were imported whole cloth from French or invented as needed. While the 1800s saw a slew of color terms adapted from the French to help sell subtle shades colors to rich people, other terms have a more exciting history, such as the color 'butternut', created to refer to the color of the Southern army uniforms in the American Civil War, or khaki, used to refer to the 'dirt colored' uniforms of the British Indian Army. (Although the French fashion term 'puce' refers to the color of a blood-swollen flea, so they weren't all so boring themselves.)

In the interest of sanity, I have started the timeline at 'Old English'. A number of the later terms are also firmly rooted in Old English, but were not documented as being used specifically as a color term until later on. Others were borrowed or invented from any number of different backgrounds. If you are lucky, you may be able to find their backstories in their respective nodes.

Name Broad description First appeared
Red Old English
Yellow Old English
Green Old English
Purple Old English
White Old English
Black Old English
Gray Old English
Dun Brown Old English
Sallow Dark Old English
Fallow Pale yellow Old English
Brown c. 1200
Blue c. 1200
BurnetDark brownc. 1200
Lily white White, pale Early 1300s
Vermeil Bright red c. 1300s
Verdure Bright green c. 1300s
Azure Bright blue, esp. heraldry 1330
Bay Reddish-brown Mid-1300s
Saffron Orange-red1382
Citrine Yellow 1386
Scarlet Red Late 1300s
Sable Black, esp. heraldry Late 1300s
Pied Black and white Late 1300s
Violet Purple Late 1300s
Perse Blue-grey, later purplish-black Late 1300s
Crimson Deep red Early 1300s
Gold c. 1400
Bice Pale blue Early 1400s
Livid Bluish-leaden Early 1400s
Grizzle Grey Early 1400s
AuburnOriginally yellowish-white, now brown; esp. hair.1400s
Ochre Brownish-yellow Mid-1400s
Jet Black Mid-1400s
Russet Reddish-brownEarly 1400s
Sorrel Reddish-brownEarly 1400s
Silver c. 1450
CoralOriginally red, now pink1513
Flaxen Yellowish-white 1520s
Roan Reddish-brown1520s
Rose 1530
Carnation The color of human flesh 1530s
Orange 1540s
Argent Silver, eps. heraldry 1562
Umber Brown 1560s
AmethystLight purple; originally esp. heraldry1572
Ivory White 1580s
Piebald A patchwork of two different colors1580s
Ultramarine Dark blue 1590
IncarnadineFlesh colored1590s
Hazel Brown, esp. of eyes1592
Ebon Black 1592
Ebony Black 1620s
Indigo Deep blue 1620s
Chestnut Brown 1650s
Burnt umber Reddish-brown 1650s
Luteous Orange-yellow 1650s
Olive Green-brown 1657
Tan Light brown 1660s
Cerulean Dark blue, blue-green 1660s
Carrot Esp. hair 1670s
Glaucous Bluish-green or gray 1670s
Brindled Streaked, esp. animal's coat1678
Peach blossom Light pink 1702
Pink 1733
Bistre Dark brown or dark grayish-black1751
Celadon Pale grayish-green 1768
Chocolate Brown 1776
Rufous Reddish-brown 1782
Buff Light brownish-yellow 1786
Puce Brownish-purple 1787
Lilac Light purple 1791
Maroon Dark reddish-brown 1791
Lemon Yellow1796
Carmine Dark red 1799
Ashen Pale grey 1808
Bronze Brown 1817
Sepia Rich brown 1821
Navy blue Dark blue 1830s
Cobalt Dark blue 1835
Prussian blueDark blue1837
Lavender Pale purple 1840
Ultraviolet 1840
Geranium Bright red 1842
Primrose Pale yellow 1844
Multicolored 1845
Aquamarine Bluish-green 1846
Mustard Yellow 1848
Turquoise Green-blue 1853
Beige Light brown 1858
Mauve Bright purple 1859
Magenta Bright pink 1860
Butternut Brown-grey 1861
Khaki Beige 1863
Chartreuse Bright yellow-green 1866
Ecru Beige 1869
Ultrared Infrared 1870
Amaranthine Purple 1874
Clair-de-lune Light grey-blue 1877
Infrared 1881
Robin's egg blue Light blue 1881
Fawn Brown 1881
Terra cotta Brownish-red 1882
Cyan Dark blue, blue-green 1889
Jade-green Green 1892
Eggshell White 1894
Powder blue Light blue 1894
Mocha Dark brown 1895
Aubergine Purple1895
Tangerine Orange1899
Gun-metal Grey 1905
Lovat Green-grey-blue c.1905
Apricot Light yellowish-orangish 1906
Taupe Dark brownish-gray 1911
Tony Reddish-brown 1920s
Fuchsia Red-pink 1923
Teal Green-blue 1923
Off-whiteWhite 1927
Magnolia Pale grey-green 1931
Aqua Green-blue 1936
Avocado Green 1945

And there you have it. If I've missed your favorite color, let me know! I'll do my best to find its birth date and add it to the list.

Super cool further reading:
Colour terms in language
Old English and Germanic color terms
Tinctures used in heraldry
Victorian color terms
Wikipedia's list of modern color terms
A whole slew of terms I wanted to add, but didn't

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