Word of the Day / Varod: Pink, Or, a Rose by Any Other Ancient Persian Name

How the island of Rhodes and the Hebrew for rose came from the same word.

Rose (David Bachar)
Pink roses, which in Hebrew, would be vradim vrudim. David Bachar

The Hebrew word for pink is va-ROD. This is a relatively new addition to the Hebrew language, as one might expect, if one accepts the theory of researchers Brent Berlin and Paul Kay.

In 1969 they suggested that there is a basic order to which languages acquire words for colors, starting with just two: black and white. Then comes red, followed by an amalgam of colors including yellow, green and blue, which biblical Hebrew called yarok; then blue and brown – and finally the in-between ones.

The final stage, according to Berlin and Kay, is the creation of words for orange, purple, gray and pink in no particular order.

Today we are discussing pink, which as we have said is varod.

We first encounter the word in ancient Persia, where wrda designated a beautiful flower they grew in their gardens.

This flower – today we call it a rose - spread from Persia to Babylonia where in Aramaic it got the slightly corrupted name warda.

This is the point at which the Jews were first introduced to the plant, which they named vered. That is the name of this plant to this very day.

Meanwhile, the Greeks too borrowed seeds of this plant from the Persians and planted them in their gardens. They corrupted its name into rodon.

Among the places they grew this plant was the island of Rhodes, which gets its name from the very same flower.

The Greeks also grew these flowers in southern Italy where the locals there picked up the practice and the name. They transferred it to their northern cousins, the Romans, who further corrupted the name of the plant into rosa.

The Roman Empire collapsed and Latin morphed into the Romance Languages spoken in different parts of the empire. One is these is French, which changed the Latin rosa into rose as early as the 12th century.

At some point, the word rose began to be used for the color we call pink, though it is not clear exactly when.

At the end of the 19th century, Eliezer Ben Yehuda was busy coming up with a variety of words Hebrew was missing, not only for print in his publications but also for his day-to-day use, as he and his family had vowed only to use Hebrew at home. One of the words the family needed, probably for the dresses of his wife Hemda or one of their daughters, was a word for pink.

Ben-Yehuda simply decided to adopt the French practice of calling the flower (the rose) and the color (pink) by the same name. As we said, the Hebrews had adopted the ancient Persian word for rose in the form vered. Ben-Yehuda took that root, v-r-d, and created varod. And thus Hebrew got a word for pink.