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Review of  Zur Etymologie lexikalisierter Farbwortverbindungen.

Reviewer: Guido Josef Oebel
Book Title: Zur Etymologie lexikalisierter Farbwortverbindungen.
Book Author: Christiane Wanzeck
Publisher: Rodopi
Linguistic Field(s): Historical Linguistics
Subject Language(s): Dutch
Language Family(ies): Germanic
Book Announcement: 14.1855

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Date: Tue, 24 Jun 2003 16:38:17 +0900
From: oebel <>
Subject: On the Etymology of Lexicalised Idioms Involving Colour

Two reviews of this book are provided by the same reviewer:
one in English and one in German.
The following review is the English version.

Wanzeck, Christiane (2003) Zur Etymologie
lexikalisierter Farbwortverbindungen. Untersuchungen anhand
der Farben Rot, Gelb, Gruen und Blau [On the Etymology of
Lexicalised Idioms Involving Colour. Investigations into the
Colours Red, Yellow, Green and Blue]. Editions Rodopi
(Amsterdam Publications on Language and Literature 149),
paperback ISBN 90-420-1317-6, xvi+428, Euro 90.00.

Announced at:

Reviewed by: Guido Oebel, Saga and Kurume/Fukuoka (both
Japan) University

Introductory remark
As an exception, allow me one personal remark right away at the
beginning of this review: Christiane Wanzeck's book is by far the
most fascinating reference book on linguistics I have ever had the
pleasure to review, particularly due to its highest standard in
terms of form, content and language. The author's thoroughly
revised and expanded version of her dissertation from 1996
(Ludwig-Maximilian-University Munich), in my humble opinion,
undisputedly presents a pioneering work in the field of
etymological linguistics thus determining standards for future
publications of similar content. Wanzeck's greatest merit is her
almost unsurpassable meticulous care she proves to have applied
while analyzing and verifying primary and secondary sources as
references for her investigation.

According to Wanzeck, 'for the first time, this book offers a
coherent representation of the etymology of historical and
contemporary lexicalised idioms' (Rodopi 2002), occurring
particularly in German, involving the colours 'red' (49-74), 'yellow'
(75-92), 'green' (93-130) and 'blue' (130-342). In addition, she
deals with loan translations such as 'blue-blooded' from the
Spanish 'sangre azul' (290-313) meaning 'noble' or the English
'blue-stocking' (322-340) meaning 'intellectual woman'. Especially
the colour adjective 'blue' so far happened to pose many riddles as
its meaning varies dependent on its respective collocation 'noble',
'skipping work on Monday' as in German 'blauer Montag'
(156-207) or 'lie' as in German 'blaue Ente' (248-267) accounting
for the literal translation 'blue duck' in English. As a matter of
fact, phraseological expressions containing 'blue' account for the
most extensive part of Wanzeck's book (130-342) due to its
linguistically extraordinary complexity and its semantic spectrum
in comparison to other colour words.
Furthermore, Wanzeck's investigation covers obsolete idioms such
as the German 'Gruener Brief' (112) meaning 'an unpleasant
letter' and to the reviewer's and of course, to the appreciation of a
readership not exclusively restricted to that of native Germans,
colour phraseologisms in other European languages such as
English, French, Spanish and Dutch, as e.g. 'iemand eene blauwe
huik omhangen' (235-240) accounting for the last-mentioned
meaning in English 'to deceive someone'.
First, Wanzeck subdivides the idioms analyzed into two basic
categories regarding their syntactic-morphological features: 1st as
Nominal Phrase (NP) allocating a specifying adjectival function to
the colour lexeme as e.g. in 'blauer Montag' meaning 'Monday off'.
2nd, as Verbal Phrase (VP) allocating the function as object
predicative (e.g. 'rot sehen' for 'to turn red in anger' in English)
(56) or solely as predicative (e.g. 'blau sein' for 'to be drunk' in
English) (145) to the lexicalized colour idiom. Concerning the
Prepositional Phrases (PP), Wanzeck observes occasional
overlapping with with VPs (e.g. 'vom gruenen Tisch aus' - Eng.:
'from a bureaucratic ivory tower') (122).
Wanzeck's study focuses on the question as to how and to what
extent the colour lexeme went from its respective overall meaning
of the colour word to adopt its new figurative meaning and
whether any regularity might be deduced from this phenomenon.
By doing so, the author deciphers convincingly the motivation of
expressions involving colour used in certain collocations. Thus,
Wanzeck succeeds in ascertaining when in what source evidence
of the phrase was first found and what meaning can be deduced
from the context of the respective reference. Wanzeck
subsequently and consistently clarifies the origin of meanwhile
'unfathomable phrases on the basis of cultural, historical and
linguistic information' (Rodopi 2002). She even offers
comprehensible solutions to borderline cases in which the colour
lexeme itself does not seem to pose a problem, however, the
overall meaning regarding its etymological development surely
does as e.g. in 'auf keinen gruenen Zweig kommen' - Eng.: ' to get
nowhere' (117-122) or 'jmdm. blauen Dunst vormachen' - Eng.:
'to throw dust in s.o.'s eyes' (274-286).
In the further course of her investigation, Wanzeck covers the
related discipline of onomastics, etymologically analyzing place
names (e.g. 'Gruenes Gewoelbe', i.e. a museum in Dresden castle)
(cf. Nopitsch 1801) and street names deriving from Low German
such as 'Rotes Meer' - translated word-for-word into English: 'Red
Sea' (cf. Mielke 1930: 182-188) or personal names such as
'Blaubart' (Eng.: 'Bluebeard') or 'Rotkaeppchen' (Eng.: 'Little Red
Ridinghood'). In this context, Wanzeck's analysis of colours and
the motivation of their employment in place names require a
particularly meticulous scrutiny concerning their
historical-linguistic consideration as they often constitute 'relicts
of an archaic state of language' (Seebold 1995: 606). Further
onomastic subjects analyzed by Wanzeck are class names (e.g.
'roter Hund' literally corresponding to English 'red dog', i.e.
medical term for a certain disease), animal names (e.g.:
'Gruenspecht' (Eng.: 'green woodpecker') and plant names such
as 'Gruener Salat' (Eng.: 'lettuce').

Critical evaluation

In sum, I consider the present volume absolutely worth reading
without any reservation. As already mentioned at the very
beginning of this review, Wanzeck's book constitutes not only a
multifaceted and utmost gripping investigation of the etymology
of historical and contemporary lexicalized idioms involving the
four primary colours red, yellow green and blue but meets highest
academic standards throughout its 428 pages. The author
justifiably claims to offer 'a coherent' and unprecedented
'representation of the etymology of historical and contemporary
lexicalized idioms involving colour' (Rodopi 2002). In addition to
my detailed and in the readers' opinion hopefully not too
panegyric synopsis, I would like to emphasize her extensive
bibliographical references (368-415) that alone justify the
purchase of Wanzeck's book as it constitutes an exemplary one
dealing with idioms involving colours. Last but at no means least,
I should stress the index (419-428) arranged in alphabetical order
and clearly subdivided into single languages such as German,
English, French, Dutch and Spanish where 'colour idioms' can be
immediately located by searching for the respective headword
thus constituting not only an outstanding but a unique source of
reference. As apart from its purely linguistic analysis Wanzeck's
book considers cultural and historical contexts, too, its use does
not appear to be exclusively restricted to language scientists but
also constitutes an interdisciplinary interface 'for the study of
literature, folklore and the history of art and law' (Rodopi 2002).
In sum, I only may hope that the relatively costly price of 90 Euro
or 107 US Dollars, respectively, does not deter potential readers
interested in the very specific topic of 'colour words' from
purchasing a copy of Wanzeck's work. Apart from individual
purchase, I emphatically consider it a must on the 'shopping list'
of university libraries not only within German language

References (print):

Mielke, Robert (1930). Das Rote Meer. Ein Beitrag zur Geschichte
einer Volksanschauung. In: ZV, NF II/49, 182-188.

Nopitsch, Christian C. (1801). Wegweiser fuer Fremde in
Nuernberg, oder topographische Beschreibung der Reichsstadt
Nuernberg nach ihren Plaetzen, Maerkten. Nuerberg.

Seebold, Elmar (1995). Wortgeschichte/Etymologie der Namen. In:
Ernst Eichler et al. (Hgg.) Namenforschung. Ein internationales
Handbuch zur Onomastik. De Gruyter: Berlin/New York (HSK
11.1.), 602-610.

References (online):
> &type=new

References for further reading suggested by the reviewer as a
lead-in to 'colour words':

Quinion, Michael (?). The Colour of Words. The fugitive names of
hues. at: <>

ABOUT THE REVIEWER Guido Oebel (PhD in linguistics) is a native German currently teaching German as a Foreign Language (DaF) and FLL at the university level in Western Japan. His main areas of research are: DaF, sociolinguistics, bilinguism, adult education and autonomous learning and approaches, particularly 'Learning by Teaching' (LdL). His next major project is his 'habilitation' with a thesis on DaF applying LdL supervised by the French Professor in didactics and LdL-inventor Jean-Pol Martin of the Catholic University Eichstaett-Ingolstadt (Germany).

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