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Copyright Š Dorian Scott Cole, 1999

It's not easy feeling green.

                                                - A. Frog

What if I needed to track down a famous frog to get permission to quote him. Where would I go, the local pond? As I recall, Jim Henson's muppets were purchased  by one Disney Corporation. Unlike other business Web sites, the famous frog site has no "legal"  or "copyrights and trademarks" link. Want to know if a character name is copyrighted? It must be magic. Disney lost the free advertising, and I quoted another frog instead. This frog maybe worked for Budweiser. Who knows?

So I interviewed a frog in a bog,
one perched on a log in the fog,
he replied like an og on a nog,
with a belch like a dog drinking grog,
"It's not easy feeling green."

I didn't know what most of those strange words in the poem meant. I probably won't remember tomorrow. This isn't about these strange words, this is about another strange word, periwinkle.

I opened my bedroom closet this spring and pulled all of my summer clothes to the front. All of my shirts were green. Do I see a pattern here? People would wonder if I ever changed clothes. I wondered if I left them on the hangers for a while, would they ripen?

One of the most difficult tasks in speaking in public is speaking to a group of women. They notice what you wear. A couple of years ago I travelled to Denver to speak to the local chapter of Women In Film. The nice woman who picked me up at the airport immediately said, "You're wearing a periwinkle." I cowered in the corner of the car, feeling green. I had no idea what a periwinkle was, or what sin I had committed. Either they wouldn't let me speak, or I would have to change clothes first.

Finally I worked up the courage to ask someone. "What is a periwinkle?" I looked straight ahead as she responded - I didn't want to receive that "boy, are you ever dumb" look. "It's a color that changes color when you're in different light," she replied.

I'm a guy. If the colors don't make me puke, then they're probably OK. More in-depth judgments than this, I leave to my wife. I don't check myself under flourescent lights, and then under incandescent to see if my aqua becomes blue or green. I just... lean toward green. It isn't easy feeling green - you might become a chameleon, or camouflaged, or a periwinkle. Like invisible blue, you might get in front of a camera wearing green and find out that you blend into the green forrest background. Could happen to a frog.

So just what is a periwinkle? According to The American Heritage Dictionary: Any of several small, often edible marine snails, especially of the genus Littorina, having thick, cone-shaped, whorled shells. 2. The shell of any of the periwinkles. [Middle English *periwinkle, probably alteration (influenced by pervinkle, periwinkle (plant)). See periwinkle2, of Old English pėnewincle : Latin pėna, mussel (from Greek pinę) + Old English -wincel, snail shell.] The American HeritageŽ Dictionary of the English Language, Third Edition copyright Š 1992 by Houghton Mifflin Company. Electronic version licensed from INSO Corporation. All rights reserved.  

A whorled shell? Probably not, because the periwinkle snail shells are single color. I turned to the next, The American Heritage Dictionary, definition 2: Any of several shrubby, trailing, evergreen plants of the genus Vinca, especially V. minor, having glossy, dark green, opposite leaves and flowers with a blue, funnel-shaped corolla. Also called myrtle. 2. Any of several erect herbs of the genus Catharanthus, especially C. roseus, having flowers with a rose-pink or white salverform corolla and a closed throat. [Middle English pervinkle, diminutive of pervinke, from Old English pervince, from Latin (vinca) pervinca, from pervincėre, to wind about.] The American HeritageŽ Dictionary of the English Language, Third Edition copyright Š 1992 by Houghton Mifflin Company. Electronic version licensed from INSO Corporation. All rights reserved.

Dark green and blue leaves? The dictionary describes plants that can be any of several different colors. But this doesn't seem to me to get to the heart of this use of the word periwinkle. I checked my infamous shirt - the one I wore that day. It was green. It not only changes color in different lights, it also has splotches of grey-green peppered through it. 

Why would someone use the word periwinkle to describe a shirt that changes(?) color, depending on the light? I checked the encyclopedia (Enclopedia Americana). Periwinkles have opposite leaves. Does this mean that the shade on the underside is different from the top? Another possibility, one of the several varieties of periwinkle plants has a variegated leaf. Yes, my shirt is kind of variegated with the grey-green colors peppered over the green.

I checked with Encyclopedia Britannica - I learned that one species of periwinkle produces an effective cancer fighting agent (for leukemia), and that a virus can attack the periwinkle plant and turn the petals a greenish color. Was this color change the meaning that the person intended?

I could try to find a dictionary for the fabric industry. Where would I find one? My fabric-oriented wife says, "Periwinkle blue" is a common term. This could get very involved. I balked at searching further - I would not visit the horticulture environs of the local university - I have visited horticulture research labs hundreds of times and still don't know a thing about plants. 

I will just continue to wear periwinkles and figure that I can get by with it. I probably won't even know I am wearing one - guys can usually be forgiven this.

This slightly humorous story is about the way our words evolve and take on new meanings in our world. We borrow or create new words to express something about our world, such as a different way of thinking, a new idea, a new meaning, a new use, a new pattern in our environment... Sometimes the new word is limited to our own inner circle, such as the fabric or fashion industry. We know what we mean by the word, and after it becomes familiar to us, we think everyone knows.

Sometimes the word does go "prime-time," and goes into widespread use. (Prime-time is another example of an evolving word.) Others pick up the new word and give it a modified meaning (example: prime-time) that works for them. For a long time, probably none of us know what a new word really means. Eventually prime-time new words lodge in the dictionary and acquire precise definitions. Often the process works well, but sometimes the process just leaves us clueless. Does anyone know what a periwinkle fabric is?  - Clueless in fashion

- Scott 


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