"Red hair? That's not red, it's orange."
April 5, 2019 2:17 AM   Subscribe

How do people in different languages and cultures refer to red hair? Or related shades like auburn and strawberry blonde?

(I'm less interested in fanciful expressions like 'carrot top', and more interested in what languages/places describe hair as red, or orange, or ginger, or otherwise)
posted by Gordafarin to Writing & Language (18 answers total) 8 users marked this as a favorite
In Polish, it's "rudy" (the colour of iron ore) or for auburn, "kasztanowy" (chestnut colour). Both can be graduated and flexed like all Polish adjectives, so you get things like "rudawy blond" (rusty blonde). The word for a red-haired person is "rudzielec".

And it's a terribly common colour for women to dye their hair, definitely the first to go to after the most standard blonde highlights on typical mousy Polish hair. I'm not familiar with any oppression, though there are some connotations of red-haired people being fox-like false and fiery-passionate. Hair dyes use some other words for gradations, like miedziany (copper), henna, but using straight "czerwony" (red as in colour) feels wrong for hair. Definitely not pomarańczowy/orange!
posted by I claim sanctuary at 2:43 AM on April 5, 2019 [1 favorite]

In the Irish language, "dearg" is the word for red while "rua" is used for "red" hair. (A classic Irish-English dictionary gives as a secondary meaning for rua "reddish-brown, russet").
posted by EtTuHealy at 2:53 AM on April 5, 2019

In German redheads are described as “rothaarige” which is a direct translation of “red-haired” so no different to English really!
posted by EatMyHat at 3:26 AM on April 5, 2019 [1 favorite]

All the following info is from either WordReference (whose English-Spanish glossary I've found quite reliable) or Wiktionary. Spoiler: only Korean and possibly Arabic are anything other than "red" -- maybe a native speaker can clarify?

Spanish: pelirrojo/a. Literally "hair" (pelo) + "red" (rojo).

French: roux/rousse. Related to "red," same as the English term "russet".

Italian: rosso -- ditto. Also testarossa ("head+red")

German: Rothaarige(r). Literally "red" (rot) + "hair" (haarig). Same for Rotkopf.

Dutch: roodharige -- ditto.

Swedish: rödhårig -- ditto. Also ljusrött ("light red") and rödblont (red-blonde)

Russian: ры́жий, "reddish" (?)

Portuguese: ruivo, related to "red." Also castanho-avermelhado ("reddish-brown")

Polish: rudy/ruda, related to "red"

Romanian: roşcat, ditto

Czech: rusý/ryšavý ("redheaded"). Also zrzek/a, but not sure of the derivation there.

Greek: κοκκινομάλλης, literally "red" (κόκκινος) and a suffix I think means haired/headed.

Turkish: kızıl saçlı kimse - "red haired person"

Chinese - 红头发的人 - ditto

Japanese - 赤毛の人 - ditto

Korean - 머리가 황갈색인 사람. Same construction, but 황갈색인 is more of a "tawny/yellow/tan" than "red."

Arabic - ذو شعر أحمر - "with red hair". Word Reference also cites بطة أمريكية ("American duck"), which... not sure what that's about.

Esperanto - rufa or rufulo - related to "red"

Finnish - punapää - literally "red+head"

Hebrew - ג'ינג'י - related to "red"

Hungarian - vöröshajú - literally "red+head" (a dark red, derived from the word for "blood"!)

Irish - rua - related to "red"

Latin - rufus (red)

I won't recapitulate the back half of this chart, but they all look like cognates of "red".

Note that these are all based on searches for translations of the English "redhead"; most/all these languages seem to have a 1:1 translation but might also have different auburn/strawberry/carrot/duck (???) synonyms.
posted by Rhaomi at 3:36 AM on April 5, 2019 [3 favorites]

Spanish has pelirrojo as above but also "pelo cobrizo" (a "coppery" color hair deeper than strawberry blonde, which would be "rubio rojizo", "reddish blonde", here) and "pelo/cabellos color caoba" ("mahogany-color hair") for the auburn hair dye tones.
posted by sukeban at 4:05 AM on April 5, 2019

My [white, redheaded] friend was arrested in a Melanesian country. The police officers had no official words for the colour of her hair. She went down in the paperwork as Caucasian, blonde.
posted by Fiasco da Gama at 4:12 AM on April 5, 2019 [7 favorites]

I just refer to Mr. Fish as "ginger".
posted by floweredfish at 4:13 AM on April 5, 2019

>Hebrew - ג'ינג'י - related to "red"

no, this is from "ginger", and is taken from the British.
Ancient hebrew may have had "Admoni" (from red) for either red hair or ruddyish skin, it's not clear.
posted by Cozybee at 4:47 AM on April 5, 2019 [4 favorites]

I just refer to Mr. Fish as "ginger".
Whilst we are not 100% in the realms of a foreign language: some explanation of the use of this term in Scotland: The actual Ginger Plant - has many varieties and be processed in many ways - but none of them has an obvious correlation with the colour of red hair - I mean not in the way that an orange is orange or a lime is lime. Rather "Ginger" - certainly around Glasgow - is a term for any fizzy drink. The canonical soft drink for most of the rest of the world would be Coke , but in Scotland it is Irn Bru. And it is the colour of this drink (#F5291 pretty much) that they are talking about when talking about red heads.

And if we dig into what makes Irn Bru "ginger"? The company is secretive about its recipe - but the drink gets is colour from Sunset Yellow FCF and Ponceau 4R - the latter of which is safe enough not to have been banned in any countries. It does contain a little bit of iron - but there is no ginger in there.
posted by rongorongo at 5:36 AM on April 5, 2019 [2 favorites]

This is a great question. I remember being a little kid and describing my mom's hair as orange, and getting repeatedly corrected despite it being OBVIOUSLY ORANGE, do you adults think I don't know my colors I am three I know colors.
posted by bile and syntax at 5:43 AM on April 5, 2019 [18 favorites]

Incidentally, the theory about ‘ginger’ deriving from Irn Bru is delightful but like all the best etymologies doesn’t seem to check out; the use of ginger for red-headed people goes back at least to 1823.
posted by Bloxworth Snout at 6:04 AM on April 5, 2019 [7 favorites]

[My brother used to call his "red" hair his orange hat. Now it's the approximate colour of a band-aid, but I digress.]

Yiddish folklore has stories of redheaded warriors called di royte yidn...lots of info on redheaded Jews (like me and the orange hat wearer) here.
posted by wellred at 7:05 AM on April 5, 2019

In English, apparently "orange" wasn't a name for a separate color until the 1500s, so I'm guessing the same was true in non-English-speaking countries.
posted by pinochiette at 7:57 AM on April 5, 2019 [3 favorites]

Yes, reading through Rhaomi's list, my reaction was clearly, orange hadn't been discovered yet.
posted by Rash at 5:52 PM on April 5, 2019

Gingerbread, ginger cookies, etc. - lovely warm golden reddish brown, seems more likely the connection to the hair color?
posted by tula at 6:29 PM on April 5, 2019 [1 favorite]

In Irish a red hair person is duine rua. Rua refers to the color like a fox, it is often translated as red but it isn't a primary red in English maybe the closet word is russet or rust. Bright red is dearg.

Strawberry blond is fionnrua, fionnrua being the word for fair/ light / white hair.

I don't know if there is a word for mahogany or dark auburn. Those would just be called brown.
posted by fshgrl at 7:54 PM on April 5, 2019 [1 favorite]

In English, there is also titian - rarely used but arguably distinct from auburn and chestnut. Also, copper coloured.

In the UK, I was a redhead because I had ginger hair, but no one would say I had red hair, and I think of that as specifically American. Our dialects are regional, and this might change by area, but to me 'red hair' would more likely mean 'actual brick red' than 'some form of ginger'.
posted by How much is that froggie in the window at 10:27 PM on April 5, 2019 [2 favorites]

The Russian term рыжий /ryzhiy/ isn't the normal word for red, красный /krassniy/. Hair and cats and other furry animals can be рыжий. Looks like there's an etymological link with English "red" with a phonetic process moving the /d/ to a /zh/ sound., and the same can be said for the word for "rust" which sounds similar.
posted by Wrinkled Stumpskin at 2:09 AM on April 6, 2019

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