Color Survey Results

Who in the rainbow can draw the line where the violet tint ends and the orange tint begins? Distinctly we see the difference of the colors, but where exactly does the one first blendingly enter into the other? So with sanity and insanity.
—Herman Melville, Billy Budd

Orange, red? I don’t know what to believe anymore!
—Anonymous, Color Survey

I WILL EAT YOUR HEART WITH A FUCKING SPOON IF YOU AKS ANY MORE QUESTIONS ABOUT COLORS
—Anonymous, Color Survey

Thank you so much for all the help on the color survey.  Over five million colors were named across 222,500 user sessions.  If you never got around to taking it, it’s too late to contribute any data, but if you want you can see how it worked and take it for fun here.

First, a few basic discoveries:

  • If you ask people to name colors long enough, they go totally crazy.
  • “Puke” and “vomit” are totally real colors.
  • Colorblind people are more likely than non-colorblind people to type “fuck this” (or some variant) and quit in frustration.
  • Indigo was totally just added to the rainbow so it would have 7 colors and make that “ROY G. BIV” acronym work, just like you always suspected. It should really be ROY GBP, with maybe a C or T thrown in there between G and B depending on how the spectrum was converted to RGB.
  • A couple dozen people embedded SQL ‘drop table’ statements in the color names. Nice try, kids.
  • Nobody can spell “fuchsia”.

Overall, the results were really cool and a lot of fun to analyze.  There are some basic limitations of this survey, which are discussed toward the bottom of this post.  But the sheer amount of data here is cool.

Sex

By a strange coincidence, the same night I first made the color survey public, the webcomic Doghouse Diaries put up this comic (which I altered slightly to fit in this blog, click for original):

It was funny, but I realized I could test whether it was accurate (as far as chromosomal sex goes, anyway, which we asked about because it’s tied to colorblindness) [Note: For more on this distinction, see my follow-up post]. After the survey closed, I generated a version of the Doghouse Diaries comic with actual data, using the most frequent color name for the handful of colors in the survey closest to the ones in the comic:

Basically, women were slightly more liberal with the modifiers, but otherwise they generally agreed (and some of the differences may be sampling noise).  The results were similar across the survey—men and women tended on average to call colors the same names.

So I was feeling pretty good about equality.  Then I decided to calculate the ‘most masculine’ and ‘most feminine’ colors.  I was looking for the color names most disproportionately popular among each group; that is, the names that the most women came up with compared to the fewest men (or vice versa).

Here are the color names most disproportionately popular among women:

  1. Dusty Teal
  2. Blush Pink
  3. Dusty Lavender
  4. Butter Yellow
  5. Dusky Rose

Okay, pretty flowery, certainly.  Kind of an incense-bomb-set-off-in-a-Bed-Bath-&-Beyond vibe.  Well, let’s take a look at the other list.

Here are the color names most disproportionately popular among men:

  1. Penis
  2. Gay
  3. WTF
  4. Dunno
  5. Baige

I … that’s not my typo in #5—the only actual color in the list really is a misspelling of “beige”.  And keep in mind, this is based on the number of unique people who answered the color, not the number of times they typed it.  This isn’t just the effect of a couple spammers. In fact, this is after the spamfilter.

I weep for my gender.  But, on to:

RGB Values

Here are RGB values for the first 48 out of about a thousand colors whose RGB values (across the average monitor, shown on a white background) I was able to pin down with a fairly high degree of precision:

The full table of 954 colors is here, also available as a text file here (I have no opinion about whether it should be used to build a new X11 rgb.txt except that seems like the transition would be a huge headache.)

The RGB value for a name is based on the location in the RGB color space where there was the highest frequency of responses choosing that name.  This was tricky to calculate.  I tried simple geometric means (conceptually flawed), a brute force survey of all potential center points (too slow), and fitting kernel density functions (math is hard). In the end, I used the average of a bunch of runs of a stochastic hillclimbing algorithm.  For mostly boring notes on my data handling for this list, see the comments at the bottom of the xkcd.com/color/rgb/ page.

Spelling and Spam

Spelling was an issue for a lot of users:

Now, you may notice that the correct spelling is missing.  This is because I can’t spell it either, and when running the analysis, used Google’s suggestion feature as a spellchecker:

A friend pointed out that to spell it right, you can think of it as “fuck-sia” (“fuch-sia”).

Misspellings aside, a lot of people spammed the database, but there were some decent filters in place.  I dropped out people who gave too many answers which weren’t colors used by many other people.  I also looked at the variation in hue; if people gave the same answer repeatedly for colors of wildly varying hue, I threw out all their results.  This mainly caught people who typed the same thing over and over.  Some were obviously using scripts; based on the filter’s certainty, the #1 spammer in the database was someone who named 2,400 colors—all with the same racial slur.

Map

Here’s a map of color boundaries for a particular part of the RGB cube.  The data here comes from a portion of the survey (1.5 million results) which sampled only this region and showed the colors against both black and white backgrounds.

The data for this chart is here (3.6 MB text file with each RGB triplet named).  Despite some requests, I’m not planning to make a poster of any of this, since it seems wrong to take advantage of all this volunteer effort for a profit; I just wanted to see what the results looked like.  You’re welcome to print one up yourself (huge copy here), but keep in mind that print color spaces are different from monitor ones.

Basic Issues

Of course, there are basic issues with this color survey.  People are primed by the colors they saw previously, which adds overall noise and some biases to the data (although it all seemed to even out in the end).  Moreover, monitors vary; RGB is not an absolute color space.  Fortunately, what I’m really interested in is what colors will look like on a typical monitors, so most of this data is across the sample of all non-colorblind users on all types of monitors (>90% LCD, roughly 6% CRT).

Color is a really fascinating topic, especially since we’re taught so many different and often contradictory ideas about rainbows, different primary colors, and frequencies of light. If you want to understand it better, you might try the neat introduction in Chapter 35 ofThe Feynman Lectures on Physics (Vol. 1), read Charles Poynton’s Color FAQ, or just peruse links from the Wikipedia article on color.  For the purposes of this survey, we’re working inside the RGB space of the average monitor, so this data is useful for picking and naming screen colors. And really, if you’re reading this blog, odds are you probably—like me—spend more time looking at a monitor than at the outdoors anyway.

Miscellaneous

Lastly, here are some assorted things people came up with while labeling colors:

Thank you so much to relsqui for writing the survey frontend, and to everyone else who sacrificed their eyeballs for this project.  If you have ideas and want to analyze these results further, I’ve posted the raw data as an SQLite dump here (84 MB .tar.gz file). It’s been anonymized, with IPs, URLs, and emails removed.  I also have GeoIP information; if you’d like to do geocorrelation of some kind, I’ll be providing a version of the data with basic region-level lat/long information (limited to protect privacy) sometime in the next few days. Note: The ColorDB data is the main survey.  The SatOnly data is the supplementary survey covering only the RGB faces in the map, and was presented on a half-black half-white background.)

And, of course, if you do anything fun with this data, I’d love to see the results—let me know at xkcd@xkcd.com.

1,277 thoughts on “Color Survey Results

  1. :( I wanted to see the original survey… but I got “404 not found”ed…. Can you fix this?

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  3. This just made my life. I wish I could have contributed, but this is perfect, and you, sir, are brilliant.

  4. Your google result shows the spelling \fuschia,\ which is the flower, though when you were writing the spelling you correctly wrote \fuchsia,\ which is the color. The google screenshot was just a tad confusing.

  5. we fish with all fish, and every time we fish back to manage better, but when the time came to be, and fluoro Berry pop-ups, almost Steve my bar against bolted to a second regret my words, but was captured

  6. This is hilarious! Sounds like a fun survey! Kinda bummed I couldn’t find it. But I loved reading about it!

  7. Fascinating! What I find particularly interesting is that magenta was misplaced so drastically. Being one of the primary colors of CMYK, I would’ve thought at least a few more people would’ve known more precisely what it looks like.

  8. I did find it rather amusing how many websites misspell the flower as Fuschia when I googled it, but at least the online dictionaries seem to get it right…and Wikipedia, of course (which was also the only way I was sure that the conglomeration of flower websites were actually all wrong).

    And I’m sad that there is a 404 non-link for the for-fun color survey :(

  9. Some guy named FUCHS discovered the flower, and it was named after him, so there is only one correct spelling and that is FUCHSia.
    Now that wasn’t too hard was it?

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  14. Am I the only one here who still has an actual paper dictionary on a shelf above my computer? I always take the spellings I see online with a pinch of salt; if I’m unsure, I look it up in my BOOK! (And yes, as one or two people have said, it’s Fuchsia.)

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  17. Sie amk. I was so sorry to hear what you were going through since November….and seeing your Monday April 4 comic – I wonder if things are better or how you’re coping up with the illness in your family. Your comic strip has made so many, many of us laugh through the years and have a sense of humor about life through our tough times, wishing you strength during yours. vay ak.

  18. Wow, I like some colours shown. I really enjoy this post. I am now into photoshop cs5 and trying to get good palete colours.

  19. I had to go check fuchsia in my dictionary after reading this! Fuchsia (the plant) is named after Leonhard Fuchs, the 16th century German botanist, while fuchsin, the dye (a deep red colour), is named after the German word for fox, which came from the French word renard, which was the name of the company that first started manufacturing it. And how cool is it that those words should end up so close?

  20. Now I am just wondering, what colors do men consider to be….

    Penis
    Gay
    WTF

    LOL!
    Of course, I imagine these results might be different if the study didn’t take place on a cartoon site…but pretty interesting all the same, and I think it’s pretty telling about men and women (and their tolerance for taking test on colors). *grin* Any male/women stats on who tended to go insane or just give up on the test first?

  21. PS: Did you know that some cultures have more primary colors then us and some less. In one Native American culture red and yellow are the same color (yellow is just light red).

  22. PPS: That’s from the anthropology class I took to avoid having to take a Sociology class in college (nothing against sociology…just hated the professor.)

  23. sweet i uh…….this survey is descreptive……… just descriptive

    SPAMMING RANDOMNESS!!!!!!!!!!!

    funny

  24. noob above / \
    | |
    anyway i think that this was funny yet altho how much time did you put into this

    and are you still living with your mother????

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  26. yup i called myself a noob and i like roblox!
    Spamer Stating the obvious and spider pig are all one small person and and even larger NOOB!!!!!!

  27. It’s somewhat reassuring that most people see something identifiably similar to what is seen by others. Now, if only this could be applied to perceptions of social problems…

  28. Loved this survey and this post, thanks! Would you consider running the survey in other languages? Gale mentioned a culture in which red and yellow are the same colour. I believe that many French speakers, at least in Europe, don’t have a direct translation of “purple” (I think “violet” is narrower). I’m sure there are many interesting examples.

  29. this was truly interesting and really funny but to all the little boys and girls please read it again and you will under stand mr xkcds humor

  30. i will kill the next person who shows me green any kind i could b a green i don’t know it is i will still kill them

  31. intresting i dont mind green much…… blue is NiCe fun WACKY!!!!!!!!!!
    nuts
    green is aweful even puke green

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