Some part of this picture is ecru. Which part depends on whom you ask. Google ecru and you’ll get an assortment of images in a variety of shades. You’ll also get a Wikipedia article that helpfully tells us the following:

In the 1930s and before, ecru was considered[by whom?] to be the same colour as the colour beige (a synonym or alias for beige), but since the 1950s ecru and beige have been regarded as two different colours.[citation needed]

We also learn this:

Uruguayan club Barrio Sur F.C. wear ecru colour as their away kit.

English clubs Liverpool F.C. and West Ham United had ecru shirts as part of their away kits in the 1996/97 season.

American minor league baseball team Loudoun Hounds uses ecru as one of its team colours.

Be honest now: you don’t associate ecru with butch things such as team sports, do you? It’s the sort of colour that only people who have lots of names for colours have a name for. In the catalogue of J. Crew you will find ecru. But when you venture into the world of drapes and walls and lamps and, you know, design, you are expected to know the difference between bone, cream, ecru, beige, and taupe. There will be a test. Give up now: once you start down that path there is no cure for it.

No cure, but there is ecru. Ecru seems to me to be the colour of some kinds of prosciutto. Not prosciutto cotto, mind you, the cooked kind. Prosciutto crudo. “Raw” prosciutto. But of course it’s not raw. It’s cured. Is cured raw? I don’t think so, but it’s not cooked.

Why did I just go there? Because ecru comes from French écru, which means ‘raw’. And of course at the same time it has the same letters as cure but differently arranged. Why is ecru raw? Because it’s the colour of raw – unbleached – linen (that’s the flax!). Not because it’s the colour of skin “in the raw” (let us not say “in the buff” if only because buff is supposed to be a different colour again). And that’s not just a crude reference; crude – and Italian crudo, as in that prosciutto I like so well – comes, like ecru, from Latin crudus.

All this development from the same raw material! But there you have it. Even the most seemingly drab (that’s another similar colour, drab) linguistic material can accrue a lot of colour and depth over time.

5 responses to “ecru

  1. I love the way you use words. You arrange them so beautifully in sentences !

  2. I remember my mother and aunt buying and using ecru cotton thread for needlework, crochet and tatting. It matched the unbleached linen fabric it was usually use to trim. But I’m guessing the cotton was in fact dyed to that shade, since unbleached cotton calico is a much lighter colour.

  3. I love quirky names given to colours; drab and buff were on our Victorian tenement apartment walls in Scotland – and I wont get started on the multitude of whites though. Going through some tubes of paint has got me wondering on the history and origins of these gorgeous names: Pizzuoli, Viridian, Umber, Sienna, Cerulean, Phtalo but my favourite (name of a colour) is Madder Lake Deep (or Alizarin). I prefer Madder Lake Deep as it conjures pictures of a bloody body of water (it’s a shade of red). Often these are named for the region that the pigment is found, such as Pizzuoli in Italy. The history behind names of colours is fascinating, thanks for this entertaining post.

  4. Haha love your wordplay: “accrue” and “There is no cure, but there is ecru”. I always say that Canadian culture is very beige but perhaps I had better revise that. 🙂

  5. I’ve always thought it’s a funny word. Have never come across it in any context other than product descriptions in catalogues. I wonder if anyone in normal life ever says it out loud.

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