Page:Popular Science Monthly Volume 39.djvu/381

From Wikisource
Jump to: navigation, search
This page has been proofread, but needs to be validated.
367
THE COLORS OF LETTERS.

THE COLORS OF LETTERS.
By DAVID STARR JORDAN.

PRESIDENT OF LELAND STANFORD, JUNIOR, UNIVERSITY.

THERE are certain powers possessed by childhood, which grow weak or disappear with advancing age or wisdom, until at last all recollection of them is lost. One of these is the ability to recognize shades of color in ideas or objects which can have no color at all. Now and then some trace of this power persists through life, and even in connection with some degree of maturity of judgment. It is then looked upon as a mild hallucination, provoking a smile of sympathy or of incredulity, but not regarded by the person himself—still less by his friends—as possessing any value or significance.

Nevertheless, such associations have a degree of psychological interest. A chapter has been devoted to them in Francis Galton's admirable work, Inquiries into Human Faculty; an interesting essay on Word Color has also been very recently published by Prof. Edward Spencer, of Moore's Hill College.[1] As a supplement to Galton's work, and as a contribution toward the more exact knowledge of the associations in the human mind of color with conceptions with which the idea of color is incongruous, the present paper is written. And as what I have to say is in a large degree subjective, partaking of the nature of a confession, the use of the first person may be pardoned.

In my youth I always associated the idea of color with the letters of the alphabet. In later years the discovery that other people recognized no such coloration came to me as a surprise. The letter R, for example, always calls up the idea of greenness. It is impossible for me to think of R without the thought that it is green. In like manner S is yellow, and X scarlet. The coloration does not seem to lie in the letter itself, as printed or written, but to coexist with the conception which the letter represents. As the letter R comes into my mind, it seems to go, with grass and leaves, into the category of green things. The sound has nothing to do with its apparent coloration, for C soft and C hard are recognized as the same letter and therefore colored alike. The coloration is not affected by the character of the type. It is in the letter itself, regardless of the way in which it may be printed, or of whether it is printed or written at all. The idea has no connection with the lettering in any colored picture books, nor does it arise from any association of that sort.


  1. Proceedings of the Indiana College Association for 1889, pp. 40-45, published December, 1890.