Color Palette – Shades of Grey (or Gray?) A little history lesson on the word(s)

Apr 29

We had a “delicious” storm roll through town the other day. I say “delicious” because that was my Grandmother-in-law’s famous word of choice to describe something exceptional and good,  and I think it applies here. I always get excited by rain storms. I guess I’m  rain deprived living in L.A., so these gorgeous dark clouds were a treat to see on my morning walk and I had to stop and marvel at all the shades of grey billowing above me. It really was delicious.

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Funny word – GREY. I’ve always had an issue with it.  Which spelling is correct  … GREY or GRAY?

I run across this anxiety every time I have to write the word. I’m always nervous that I’m going to get it wrong, but I am never sure how to correct myself.

~ Am I looking like an idiot for spelling it one way over the other?

~ Is there a proper time for using one form of spelling in place of the other form?

~ As an art teacher am I misusing the word and incorrectly defining its meaning when I refer to it?

~ Do I obsess WAY too much about little things?

The answer to that last one is yes, but in this case I think I have a valid concern. So I decided to do a little research and here’s what I found:   

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ANSWER:  They’re both correct. According to www.greyorgray.com (yes there is a website for everything); Gray is the American way to spell it, Grey is the spelling of choice used in Great Britian and areas where UK English is spoken. That answers the spelling part, but what about the meaning of the word? Is there a conceptional difference with the spelling variations? ANSWER: Yes, maybe, not sure. No one can say for sure. It may be cultural and geographical ….  (huh?)  

In a survey done in both the U.S. and the U.K., the common belief to the meaning of the word and spelling was that “grey” was an actual color perceived as a hue of “silver”, whereas “gray” was thought to be a sliding scale of values from black to white. To back this up, and provide one more thing for the true color-geeks (or should I say colour-geeks) to ponder, according to www.cloford.com there is only one color reference to “grey”, whereas all the other color choices listed are “gray”.  

The one and only “grey” in question is :  

I’m not sure that I believe this color ideal, but I find it fascinating that I’m even writing a post about it.  In a nutshell, it all seems to boil down to two important tools brought about in the mid-late 19th century. The battle between the Oxford English Dictionary (UK) where the word was declared to be “Grey”, and the Webster’s Academic Dictionary (US) where it was noted as “Gray”.  Like so many things in this world it is really just a battle of words and politics. 

So, which do you prefer?  Grey or Gray?