'Alwan': Arabic word for colours can paint and reveal

The word takes on various hues as it moves across what we see

The Arabic word for colours has many shades of meaning.
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This week’s Arabic word is a diamond in the hand, reacting to light in all sorts of wonderful ways.

Alwan is Arabic for colours and, like the spectrum wheel beyond it, the word takes on various tints as it moves across what we see and perceive. It also gives us the opportunity to explore the Arabic words for individual colours as well as some of the things they describe.

The singular form of alwan is lown. Lawniyat is the scientific study of colours. Eima lowni is colour blindness.

A primary colour is lown al asassi, such as ahmar (red), akhdar (green) and azraq (blue).

Lown also resonates in the auditory realm. Al lown al ghinaei is a musical lyrical colour or style, such as tarab or bolero. In literature, al lown al adabi refers to types of texts such as a novel (riwaya), short story (qissah qasirah) or poem (shaer).

In the kitchen, lown al taam is food colouring. In the sky, alwan qows quzah are the colours of a rainbow.

It’s not all vibrant with alwan, though. When speaking of the relentless suffering someone’s endured, you could say: qas alwanan min alaazab.

Of a person’s malicious disposition, you could say that they have a black heart, or qalbuho/qalbuha aswad.

Inversely, qalbuho/qalbuha abyad can be said of someone with a white heart.

A person with a green (akhdar) heart, meanwhile, can denote someone with youthful ambition and a sense of adventure.

Among akhdar items are ushb (grass) and tuffah (apple). Ahmar objects include wared (rose) and damm (blood). For azraq, there is samaa (the sky) and al bahr (the sea). Asfar (yellow) includes moz (banana). As with other languages, the colour can also describe a sickly face: wajhuhu/wajhuha asfar.

Roses are wared. EPA

For abyad, thalej (snow). For aswad, there is the night (al layl).

Al ouyoun el sood (black or dark eyes) are widely perceived as a sign of beauty in the Arab world. Algerian-Lebanese singer Warda Al Jazairia has a popular song by that name.

Also in music, Haza al lown aleiki yijannen is a folk song famously sung by Iraqi crooner Kadhim Al Saher, and which translates to: this colour is divine on you.

Updated: May 20, 2022, 6:02 PM