Black is a very complex word, having many meanings, some with social implications, and a partly uncertain etymology derived from many different words from different languages. Black dates back to usage in early Old English, and cognates with Middle Dutch blac ink and Old Saxton blac ink, which is a black dye, or a black colour, Old High German blah-, though only in forms blah-faro, a colour of ink.2 Any further etymology is uncertain, though it has been deduced that black could be from a base related to the Germanic base blank. However, this would give a meaning of shining, or white, which is the opposite of black. However, it has been hypothesized that black can be from blackened or burnt, burning (brightly) which is derived from the same Germanic base. 1
In its most common form, black, as an adjective, defines the darkest colour possible. Any object or substance so dark that there is no recognizable colour is classified to be black. However, for a substance, matter, or object to be physically black is due to a complete absence of light. Anything black absorbs all light that is travelling through or to it, meaning that in reality, it has no colour at all, as colour is a reflection of certain wavelengths of light. In practise and daily usage, black is generally still considered a colour.
Black, as a colour, has negative connotations to it, often relating to the dark, which in itself is often feared by many people due to its association with the unknown. The colour black, for its ominous qualities, also often represents darkness, or evil. Thus, things that are meant to be intimidating are often black in colour, which evokes a subconscious reaction in most people. However, for the same reasons, black can be seen as mysterious. Black also often represents minimalism, in association with white, for one is the complete absorption of colour, while the other is the complete reflection of colour. Black, which occurs more in its purest form, understated. For these reasons – fear, mystery, minimalism- though not only these, architects often wear black.
Also commonly used, Black is a description for a group of people, and often detonates a member of any dark-skinned group of peoples, especially a person of sub-Saharan African or Australian Aboriginal origin or descent.1 However, black in this form sometimes has negative effects, as it is linked to the negative connotations of the colour black. Black, in this sense, is also often related to slavery, which leads to a social imbalance and a classification system that still exists in the southern United States. Hence, terms such as African-American, or African, have been used more recently to refer to people of such decent.
Though having negative connotations, black is a very popular word, and a very popular colour that occurs often in western culture as not only a description, but sometimes associates itself with certain statements and lifestyles
- Oxford English Dictionary, s.v. “black”, accessed November 14, 2012, http://www.oed.com/view/Entry/19670?isAdvanced=false&result=1&rskey=QeDIrj&#eid19398870
- Online Etymology Dictionary, s.v. “black”, accessed November 14, 2012, http://www.etymonline.com/index.php?term=black