When I was part-owner of a construction company, we did most of our work with civil or structural engineers and a little work with architects. Architects, we joked, were people who could name at least 50 shades of white, distinguish the difference between them, and expect everybody else to be able to do the same. (“How do you like your coffee?” the server asked the architect. “Between ecru and fawn,” she answered.)
If the human eye can perceive 10 million colors, the human architect eye aspires to see 5 million additional hues in between. It’s possible that some architects can see more colors than the average human.
Human eyes have three types of cone cells which distinguish red, blue and green light frequencies as well as variations in between. Those three types of cone cells are what permit us to see 10 million colors and hues. It was estimated that 2-3 percent of women have a 4th cone cell in their eyes which allows them to distinguish an orange light frequency and perceive up to 100 million colors. Scientists believe now that as many as 50% of all women and up to 8% of all men have that 4th cone cell.
Since paint companies have white in 100+ shades (Benjamin Moore has 154 and Sherwin Williams has 173), awareness of white variations isn’t limited to architects. Bright, absolute white is a perception which created by light that stimulates all three types of the 120 million cone cells in our eyes in equal amounts. White visual stimulation lacks any hue or grayness. Snow on the ground appears white although the snow flakes are transparent. It is the faceted edges of the flake that reflect light and create the perception of white. The only way white varies is with the addition of different hues. So shades of white aren’t white at all.
Words are like absolute white light. They don’t have any meaning without my perception, my own color addition. As a teen, I learned Spanish curse words. Saying them meant nothing to me, but the words horrified my friend’s mom.
Simple words can have so many shades of meaning. The same words can be said and heard differently. If someone comments that I look tired, my first response on a bad day is to check the mirror and ask if I look bad. You are looking healthy=You’ve gained weight. That isn’t what was said. It’s shade I added to the words. And the perception can leave me defensive and unhappy, coloring my attitude toward everything else.
GE and Jack used to have battles over whether words were intended to be literal or figurative. I believe it started with a Seinfeld episode.
“Don’t be pig-headed, Georgie!” “Do you mean that literally? <snort, snort>”
“I’m running to the store, J.D. Want to come along?” “Literally, Georgie? I’d rather ride.”
They couldn’t carry on 10 minutes of conversation without one of them saying, eyebrow raised and head tilted, “Literally?” And the other one nodding slowly for a moment, stopping and saying, “Ahhhh, no. I mean figuratively.”
I’ve been told that feelings aren’t facts. They are just feelings. It’s what I do with them that determines whether I have an amends to make later or not. In the same way, I think words are just strung together vowels and consonants that are meaningless unless I attach importance to them. I can color them with great intensity and use them to change the hue of any situation. Or I can let them fade until they are just a word. I am that powerful.
I love words in their absolute form or with shades of feelings. Figuratively, that is, not literally.