late 14c., "yellow arsenic, arsenic trisulphide," from Old French arsenic, from Latin arsenicum, from late Greek arsenikon "arsenic" (Dioscorides; Aristotle has it as sandarake), adapted from Syriac (al) zarniqa "arsenic," from Middle Persian zarnik "gold-colored" (arsenic trisulphide has a lemon-yellow color), from Old Iranian *zarna- "golden," from PIE root *ghel- (2) "to shine," with derivatives referring to bright materials and gold.
The form of the Greek word is folk etymology, literally "masculine," from arsen "male, strong, virile" (compare arseno-koites "lying with men" in New Testament) supposedly in reference to the powerful properties of the substance. As an element, from 1812. The mineral (as opposed to the element) is properly orpiment, from Latin auri pigmentum, so called because it was used to make golden dyes. Related: Arsenical.
... se lo pueden comer las hormigas o le puede caer en la cabeza una gran langosta de arsenico ... [Lorca, on the poet overmastered by intellect]
"small migratory bird of the Old World, noted for the male's melodious song, heard by night as well as day," Middle English nighte-gale, from Old English næctigalæ, in late Old English nihtegale, a compound formed in Proto-Germanic (compare Dutch nachtegaal, German Nachtigall) from *nakht- "night" (see night) + *galon "to sing," related to Old English giellan "to yell" (from PIE root *ghel- (1) "to call"). With parasitic -n- that began to appear mid-13c. Dutch nightingale "frog" is attested from 1769. In Japanese, "nightingale floor" is said to be the term for boards that creak when you walk on them.
French rossignol (Old French lousseignol) is, with Spanish ruiseñor, Portuguese rouxinol, Italian rosignuolo, from Vulgar Latin *rosciniola, a dissimilation of Latin lusciniola "nightingale," diminutive of luscinia "nightingale," which, according to de Vaan, "might be explained with haplology from *lusci-cania 'singing in the night' or 'blind singer', but this is speculative."
Old English geolu, geolwe, "yellow," from Proto-Germanic *gelwaz (source also of Old Saxon, Old High German gelo, Middle Dutch ghele, Dutch geel, Middle High German gel, German gelb, Old Norse gulr, Swedish gul "yellow"), from PIE root *ghel- (2) "to shine," with derivatives denoting "green" and "yellow" (such as Greek khlōros "greenish-yellow," Latin helvus "yellowish, bay").
Occasionally in Middle English used of a color closer to blue-gray or gray, of frogs or hazel eyes, and to translate Latin caeruleus, glauco. Also as a noun in Old English. Meaning "light-skinned" (of blacks) first recorded 1808. Applied to Asiatics since 1787, though the first recorded reference is to Turkish words for inhabitants of India.
Yellow peril translates German die gelbe gefahr. Sense of "cowardly" is 1856, of unknown origin; the color was traditionally associated rather with jealousy and envy (17c.). Yellow-bellied "cowardly" is from 1924, probably a semi-rhyming reduplication of yellow; earlier yellow-belly was a sailor's name for a half-caste (1867) and a Texas term for Mexican soldiers (1842, based on the color of their uniforms). Yellow dog "mongrel" is attested from c. 1770; slang sense of "contemptible person" first recorded 1881. Yellow fever attested from 1748, American English (jaundice is a symptom).
"precious metal noted for its color, luster, malleability, and freedom from rust or tarnish," Old English gold, from Proto-Germanic *gulthan "gold" (source also of Old Saxon, Old Frisian, Old High German gold, German Gold, Middle Dutch gout, Dutch goud, Old Norse gull, Danish guld, Gothic gulþ), from PIE root *ghel- (2) "to shine," with derivatives denoting gold (the "bright" metal).
The root is the general Indo-European one for "gold," found in Germanic, Balto-Slavic (compare Old Church Slavonic zlato, Russian zoloto, "gold"), and Indo-Iranian. Finnish kulta is from German; Hungarian izlot is from Slavic. For Latin aurum see aureate. Greek khrysos probably is from Semitic.
From Homer on through Middle English, "red" often is given as a characteristic color of pure gold or objects made from it. This is puzzling, but it might stem from an ancient practice of testing the purity of gold by heating it; in Middle English red gold was "pure gold" (c. 1200).
Nay, even more than this, the oftener gold is subjected to the action of fire, the more refined in quality it becomes; indeed, fire is one test of its goodness, as, when submitted to intense heat, gold ought to assume a similar colour, and turn red and igneous in appearance; a mode of testing which is known as "obrussa." [Pliny, "Natural History," 33.19]
"of the color of the clear sky," c. 1300, bleu, blwe, etc., "sky-colored," also "livid, lead-colored," from Old French blo, bleu "pale, pallid, wan, light-colored; blond; discolored; blue, blue-gray," from Frankish *blao or some other Germanic source, from Proto-Germanic *blæwaz (source also of Old English blaw, Old Saxon and Old High German blao, Danish blaa, Swedish blå, Old Frisian blau, Middle Dutch bla, Dutch blauw, German blau "blue").
This is from PIE *bhle-was "light-colored, blue, blond, yellow," from root *bhel- (1) "to shine, flash, burn," also "shining white" and forming words for bright colors. The same PIE root yielded Latin flavus "yellow," Old Spanish blavo "yellowish-gray," Greek phalos "white," Welsh blawr "gray," showing the slipperiness of definition in Indo-European color-words. Many Indo-European languages seem to have had a word to describe the color of the sea, encompassing blue and green and gray; such as Irish glass (from PIE root *ghel- (2) "to shine,"); Old English hæwen "blue, gray," related to har (see hoar); Serbo-Croatian sinji "gray-blue, sea-green;" Lithuanian šyvas, Russian sivyj "gray."
The present spelling in English is since 16c., common from c. 1700. The sense "lead-colored, blackish-blue, darkened as if by bruising" is perhaps by way of the Old Norse cognate bla "livid, lead-colored." It is the meaning in black and blue, and blue in the face "livid with effort" (1864, earlier black and blue in the face, 1829).
The color of constancy since Chaucer at least, but apparently for no deeper reason than the rhyme in true blue (c. 1500). Figurative meaning "sad, sorrowful, afflicted with low spirits" is from c. 1400, perhaps from the "livid" sense and implying a bruised heart or feelings. Of women, "learned, pedantic," by 1788 (see bluestocking). In some phrases, such as blue murder, it appears to be merely intensive.
Blue pencil as an editor's characteristic tool to mark corrections in copy is from 1885; also as a verb from 1885. The fabulous story of Blue-beard, who kept his murdered wives in a locked room, is from 1798. For blue ribbon see cordon bleu under cordon. Blue whale attested from 1851, so called for its color. Blue cheese is from 1862. Blue water "the open ocean" is from 1822. Blue streak, of something resembling a bolt of lightning (for quickness, intensity, etc.) is from 1830, Kentucky slang. Delaware has been the Blue Hen State at least since 1830, supposedly from a nickname of its regiments in the Revolutionary War.
The exact color to which the Gmc. term applies varies in the older dialects; M.H.G. bla is also 'yellow,' whereas the Scandinavian words may refer esp. to a deep, swarthy black, e.g. O.N. blamaðr, N.Icel. blamaður 'Negro' [Buck]
Few words enter more largely into the composition of slang, and colloquialisms bordering on slang, than does the word BLUE. Expressive alike of the utmost contempt, as of all that men hold dearest and love best, its manifold combinations, in ever varying shades of meaning, greet the philologist at every turn. [John S. Farmer, "Slang and Its Analogues Past and Present," 1890, p.252]