In Japan, there are a dozen basic colors that almost everyone in a recent survey was able to name using one word. And 11 of them—black, white, gray, blue, green, yellow, red, purple, brown, pink, and orange—all overlap with the basic colors Americans can describe in one word. But in Japan, a 12th color, "mizu," which means water, has emerged as a basic color as distinct from blue as green is. Among Americans asked to name basic colors using just one word, "light blue" didn't come up as a color at all because we just don't have a single-word name for it, with the very rare exception of someone using "sky," scientists report in a Eureka Alert news release.
Italians, however, do have their own word for the "mizu" color—"celeste," reports IFL Science. And Americans do have a single word for other colors, like "lavender," for which the Japanese do not. Researchers are investigating why certain color descriptions vary so dramatically while others are so consistent across cultures, and report on their findings in the Journal of Vision. While the case of light blue was a notable difference, it's only a recent one, given "mizu" was not a basic color name in Japan 30 years ago. "What's really interesting is there are remarkable similarities in color descriptions amongst people who live thousands of miles apart, and there can be differences between next-door neighbors," one researcher says. (How about blue wine?)