Archive for February, 2012

Blondes, Brunettes, and Redheads: The Story Behind the Words for Hair Color

February 23, 2012

(This is taken almost verbatim from the e-newsletter “Daily Writing Tips.”  It covers some of my favorite subjects – particularly etymology, of course!)

The conventions for referring to hair color are tousled. Why is it that we refer to someone with light-colored hair as a blonde (and, rarely, a blond) but we call someone with red hair a redhead? Why are blonde and brunette spelled two ways?


Blond and its feminine form blonde, both from the Latin word blundus (“yellow”) by way of French, may have in turn come from a Frankish word that could be related to Old English blondan, “to mix,” which shares its origins with blend. Blond is usually employed as an adjective, the term as a noun for a man with blond hair, by contrast, is rare. Because blonds and blondes are more likely to be fair-skinned as well as fair-haired, the term is also associated with light complexion.

The presence of both masculine and feminine forms for blond/blonde and brunet/brunette is due to their French (and ultimately Latin) roots, as it were, as opposed to the Germanic origins of black and red, the words for the other major hair colors, which have a neutral form.

Normally, English might have jettisoned one gendered form for blond/blonde. However, the venerable theme in popular culture of the blonde-haired woman as more sexually attractive and available (as well as flighty, shallow, and dimwitted), as compared to females with hair of another color, has caused the noun form blonde and brunette to endure.

The numerous terms for variations in blond hair, not necessarily in order of darkness, include sandy, strawberry, and dirty. Towhead (the first syllable refers to its resemblance to tow, flax or hemp fibers used for twine or yarn) describes a person with yellowish and often unruly hair.


Brunet and brunette, from the gender-specific diminutives of the French brun (“brown”), mean “brown haired.” (Brun and its diminutives originally also referred to a dark complexion.) As with blond and blonde, the male form is rarely used on its own as a noun, though the masculine and feminine variations persist probably because of the same double standard in association of hair color with female sexuality and with personality characteristics as mentioned in reference to blondes above. (Dark-haired women are stereotyped as serious, sophisticated, and capable.) Words for shades of brown hair, from darkest to lightest, are brunet/brunette, chestnut, walnut (the last two as compared to colors of the respective nuts), golden, and ash.


  Redhead is yet another term for hair color used as a noun; in contrast to the colors mentioned above, it is not gender specific, though as blonde and brunette  are much more common in usage than blond and brunet, it is more likely to refer to a woman than a man.

Variations in red hair, listed in alphabetical order rather than according to depth of color, include auburn, copper, ginger, and orange. (Auburn derives ultimately from the Latin word albus, meaning “white,” but thanks to the influence of brun, the French spelling — auborne — changed, as did the meaning, to “reddish brown.”) The prevailing — and long-standing — cultural stereotype about redheads is that they are hot tempered; the hair color has also been associated with a high libido.

Alone among descriptions of people with general hair tones, a black-haired person is never referred to by the word black alone.

Hair-color categories are arbitrary — strawberry blond is sometimes considered a type of red hair, and auburn might be classified as a type of brown hair — though a system called the Fischer-Saller scale, devised for anthropological and medical classification, assigns alphabetical letters and roman numerals to various grades of hair color.

So: Is it true blondes have more fun?

Hey, Facebook Friends. I Don’t Care What They Say. I “Like” You.

February 2, 2012

Facebook Might Not Be Forever, But These Are!

The financial world is all agog over Facebook’s impending IPO, which will set the market value of the company at something like $100 Billion, of which Mark Zuckerberg will own around 30%.  Nice going, kid.

I’ve enjoyed what Facebook offers, particularly the ability to make new friends and to reconnect with old friends and family around the world.  This is what I “Like” most about it. I suspect that most of my FB friends feel likewise – ooh, lousy unintended pun.

But Facebook is a business. Business doesn’t succeed unless it delivers something of value. To understand what’s been going on with Facebook, and why it’s been so successful to date, be sure to read Andy Kessler’s Wall Street Journal column of Groundhog Day, 2012,

“The Button That Made Facebook Billions:  The power of ‘Like’ as an emotional sensor is driving the company’s exorbitant valuation.”

 Rather than attempting to condense and paraphrase Andy, I’ll quote him and another WSJ piece. They tell the story better than I can. Andy points out,

“As bizarre as this sounds, one of the most valuable innovations in technology over the last several decades is Facebook’s “Like” button. That’s what has propelled the company to a galaxy-orbit valuation for its forthcoming initial public offering, filed Wednesday.

“This is not only because the word “like” is, like, the identifying word of an entire generation. It’s because computing has evolved beyond just taking directions from humans—and instead is cozying up to us and sniffing out our emotions and intent.

 “[…] running ads next to pictures of your buddy Johnny funneling beers at a lacrosse game is not exactly what [advertisers] had in mind. Then, in mid-2010, Facebook rolled out its Like button, which transformed the company from a somewhat interesting social network into a major media player. The power of Like as an emotional sensor is what’s driving Facebook’s exorbitant valuation.

“Google, worth $190 billion with $38 billion in annual sales, is the closest real competitor to Facebook. Google lures you to its site via its search engine and sells ads against results, paid per click…basically it runs an ad platform. It’s a great business with operating profits of 35%, similar to Facebook’s.

“Facebook doesn’t sell phones or tablets, or ship physical products or even do searches. Instead, it has a vibrant, pulsating community of 845 million people willing to share their personal lives with others. Facebook is a giant emotional locker.

“The adage about advertising is that only half of ads are effective, but no one knows which half. With the ‘Like’ button, Facebook is like Bob Eubanks on “The Newlywed Game,” who promised contestants “a prize chosen especially for you.” Advertising’s nirvana is an ad chosen especially for you. Of all the players, Facebook is the closest to delivering.”

 The Journal article says that Facebook too is profitable, although development and employee costs are growing faster than its revenue, and

“Facebook’s revenue is still driven by online ads. The number of ads delivered on the site grew 42% and the average price per ad grew 18% over 2011 from 2010…”

So can they keep it up? How long will it last? Who knows – success in business breeds imitation and competition.  There surely is a “Next Big Thing” out there somewhere.  Only diamonds are forever.

 In the meantime, let’s understand what’s going on here while we enjoy the ride and our online friendships.

With Facebook, What You ‘Like’ is What You See – in advertising pitches.  Remember that you’re in control here!

Remember too – if you’re reading this, originally posted on Facebook, that means you’re my Facebook Friend. And, doggone it,

I “Like” You.