The word black comes from Old English blæc (“black, dark”, also, “ink”), from Proto-Germanic *blakkaz (“burned”), from Proto-Indo-European *bhleg- (“to burn, gleam, shine, flash”), from base *bhel- (“to shine”), related to Old Saxon blak (“ink”), Old High German blah (“black”), Old Norse blakkr (“dark”), Dutch blaken (“to burn”), and Swedish bläck (“ink”). More distant cognates include Latin flagrare (“to blaze, glow, burn”), and Ancient Greek phlegein (“to burn, scorch”). Black supplanted the wonted Old English word sweart (“black, dark”), which survives as swart, swarth, and swarthy (compare German schwarz and Dutch zwart, “black”).
Color or light in science
Black can be defined as the visual impression experienced when no visible light reaches the eye. (This makes a contrast with whiteness, the impression of any combination of colors of light that equally stimulates all three types of color-sensitive visual receptors.)
Pigments that absorb light rather than reflect it back to the eye “look black”. A black pigment can, however, result from a combination of several pigments that collectively absorb all colors. If appropriate proportions of three primary pigments are mixed, the result reflects so little light as to be called “black”.
This provides two superficially opposite but actually complementary descriptions of black. Black is the lack of all colors of light, or an exhaustive combination of multiple colors of pigment. See also Primary colors
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In physics, a black body is a perfect absorber of light, but, by a thermodynamic rule, it is also the best emitter. Thus, the best radiative cooling, out of sunlight, is by using black paint, though it is important that it be black (a nearly perfect absorber) in the infrared as well.
In elementary science, far Ultraviolet light is called “black light” because, unseen, it causes many minerals and other substances to fluoresce.
On January 16, 2008, researchers from Troy, New York’s Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute announced the creation of the darkest material on the planet. The material, which reflects only .045 percent of light, was created from carbon nanotubes stood on end. This is 1/30 of the light reflected by the current standard for blackness, and one third the light reflected by the previous record holder for darkest substance.
Absorption of light
A material is said to be black if most incoming light is absorbed equally in the material. Light (electromagnetic radiation in the visible spectrum) interacts with the atoms and molecules, which causes the energy of the light to be converted in to other forms of energy, usually heat. This means that black surfaces can act as thermal collectors, absorbing light and generating heat(see Solar thermal collector).
Absorption of light is contrasted by transmission, reflection and diffusion, where the light is only redirected, causing objects to appear transparent, reflective or white respectively.
Usage, symbolism, colloquial expressions
Authority and seriousness
Black can be seen as the color of authority and seriousness.
- Black Watch is the senior Highland Regiment of the British Army.
- In Japanese culture, kuro (black) is a symbol of nobility, age, and experience, as opposed to shiro (white), which symbolizes serfdom, youth, and naiveté. Thus the black belt is a mark of achievement and seniority in many martial arts, whereas in, for example, Shotokan karate, a white belt is a rank-less belt that comes before all other belts. These ranks are called dan.
- Black was the color of the Arab dynasty of Abbasid caliphs, which is the reason black is frequently used in flags of Arab countries.[dubious – discuss]
- The riot control units of the Basque Autonomous Police in Spain are known as beltzak (“blacks”) after their uniform.
- Traditionally, British police vehicles (panda cars) were in black and white.
- Academic dress includes black robes for graduates.
- Black tuxedos are worn at formal occasions known as black tie functions.
- Black is worn by religious figures within Christianity, e.g. priests (especially of the older religious denominations), monks and nuns.
- Black is worn by Hassidic Jews.
- Black is worn by some Muslim women; see List of types of sartorial hijab for photographs of examples such as the abaya.
- Lawyers and judges often wear black robes.
- Many performers of European classical music or other serious art music dress in black for a concert or recital.
- Members of the modern goth and some punk subcultures dress predominantly in black (see also goth fashion).
- The term “black” is often used in the West to denote the ethnicity of people whose actual skin color ranges from light to darker shades of brown such as sepia. For a discussion of usage, see the main entry at Black people and color terminology for race.
- “All Black” is a song by Good Charlotte that depicts the love for the color black.
- “Black & White”, a song by In Flames from their album Reroute To Remain Fourteen Songs of Conscious Insanity.
- “Paint It Black” is a 1966 hit song by The Rolling Stones.
- Metallica‘s self titled album is known as “The Black Album.,” and “Fade to Black” is a song off their 1984 album, Ride the Lightning.
- The Black Album from rapper Jay-Z
- Amy Winehouse‘s Grammy Award winning song and album Back to Black.
- Black metal is a style of music including bands such as Darkthrone and Mayhem.
- Johnny Cash was commonly referred to as “The Man in Black” due to his preference for black clothing. His song “Man in Black” presents it as a show of solidarity with the outcasts of society.
- The folk song “Black Is the Color (of My True Love’s Hair)“.
- The band AC/DC sang “Back in Black“, a song about being successful and ambitious once again.
- Black Flag was an American punk rock band formed in 1977 in Hermosa Beach, California that broke up in 1986.
- “Black or White“, the first single off of Michael Jackson‘s Dangerous album.
- Black is Black, a 1966 hit single by Spanish band Los Bravos.
- In arguments, things can be black-and-white, meaning that the issue at hand is dichotomized (having two clear, opposing sides with no middle ground).
- In ancient China, black was the symbol of North and Water, one of the main five colors.
- The List of black flags, although not exclusively political, gives many political meanings.
- The Lützow Free Corps, composed of volunteer German students and academics fighting against Napoleon in 1813, could not afford to make special uniforms and therefore adopted black, as the only color that could be used to dye their civilian clothing without the original color showing. As these volunteers were greatly praised and glorified by later revolutionaries, their choice of the black color might have influenced its later connotations.
- Black is used for anarchist symbolism, sometimes split in diagonal with other colors to show alignment with another political philosophy. The plain black flag is explained in various ways, sometimes as an anti-flag or a non-flag. Wearing black clothing is also sometimes an anarchist tactic during demonstrations, with a practical benefit of not attracting attention and making later identification of a subject difficult. This strategy is referred to as a black bloc.
- In Portuguese politics, black (and red) is the party color of the Left Bloc.
- The blackshirts were Italian Fascist militias.
- In Nazi Germany, the blackshirts was a nickname for the SS, as opposed to the brownshirts, the SA.
- The black triangle was used by the Nazis to designate “asocial” people (homeless and Roma, for example); later the symbol was adopted by lesbian culture.
- Black sky refers to the appearance of space as one emerges from the Earth’s atmosphere.
- A black dwarf is the designation used in astronomy for a star that has burned out.
- The term “black hole” is applied to collapsed stars.
- Black body radiation refers to the radiation coming from a body at a given temperature where all incoming energy (light) is converted to heat.
- In the bandana code of the gay leather subculture, wearing a black bandana means that one is into the Sexual fetish of Sadomasochism, sadists wearing the bandana in the left rear pocket, masochists on the right.
- The national rugby union team of New Zealand is called the All Blacks, in reference to their black outfits, and the color is also shared by other New Zealand national teams such as the Black Caps (cricket) and the Kiwis (rugby league).
- Association football (soccer) referees traditionally wear all-black uniforms, however nowadays other uniform colors may also be worn.
- A large number of teams have uniforms designed with black colors—many feeling the color sometimes imparts a psychological advantage in its wearers. Among the more famous (or infamous) include Oakland Raiders and Pittsburgh Steelers of the NFL, the San Antonio Spurs and Miami Heat of the NBA, and Inter Milan of the Serie A of the Italian soccer leagues.
- In auto racing, a black flag signals a driver to go into the pits.
- In baseball, “the black” refers to the batter’s eye, a blacked out area around the center-field bleachers, painted black to give hitters a decent background for pitched balls.
Ambiguity and secrecy
- A black box is any device whose internal workings are unknown or inexplicable. In theatre, the black box is a smaller, undecorated theater whose auditorium and stage relationship can be configured in various way.
- A black project is a secretive project, like Enigma Decryption, other classified military programs or operations, Narcotics, or police sting operations.
- Some organizations are called “black” when they keep a low profile, like Sociétés Anonymes and secret societies.
- A polished black mirror is used for scrying, and is thought to help see into the paranormal world without interference or distraction.
- Black frequently symbolizes ambiguity, secrecy, and the unknown.
Beliefs, religions and superstitions
- Black is a symbol of mourning and bereavement in Western societies, especially at funerals and memorial services. In some traditional societies, within for example Greece and Italy, widows wear black for the rest of their lives. In contrast, across much of Africa and parts of Asia, white is a color of mourning and is worn during funerals.
- In English heraldry, black means darkness, doubt, ignorance, and uncertainty.
- The Black Sun is an occult symbol used by those who believe in Nazi mysticism.
- In the Maasai tribes of Kenya and Tanzania, the color black is associated with rain clouds, a symbol of life and prosperity.
- Native Americans associated black with the life-giving soil.
- The Hindu deity Krishna means “the black one”.
- The medieval Christian sect known as the Cathars viewed black as a color of perfection.
- The Rastafari movement sees black as beautiful.
- In the Japanese culture, Black is associated with honor, not death with the white color being associated with death.
- Black-dog bias is a veterinarian and animal shelter phenomenon in which black dogs are passed over for adoption in favor of lighter colored animals.
- Black cats may be thought of as either good luck or bad.
- To say one’s accounts are “in the black” is used to mean that one is or “no longer in the red”, or free of debt .
- In Western fashion, black is considered stylish, sexy, elegant and powerful.
- The colloquialism “X is the new black” is a reference to the latest trend or fad that is considered a wardrobe basic for the duration of the trend, on the basis that black is always fashionable. The phrase has taken on a life of its own as a snowclone, and has been stretched and parodied as a rhetorical device and a cliché.
Symbolic dualism with white
- Black magic is a destructive or evil form of magic, often connected with death, as opposed to white magic. This was already apparent during Ancient Egypt when the Cush Tribe invaded Egyptian plantations along the Nile River.
- Evil witches are stereotypically dressed in black and good fairies in white.
- In computer security, a blackhat is an attacker with evil intentions, while a whitehat bears no such ill will. (This is derived from the Western movie convention.)
- In many Hollywood Westerns, bad cowboys wear black hats while the good ones wear white.
- Melodrama villains are dressed in black and heroines in white dresses.
- A “black day” (or week or month) usually refers to a sad or tragic time. The Romans marked fasti days with white stones and nefasti days with black.
- E.g., the Wall Street Crash 1929, the stock market crash on October 29, 1929, which is the start of the Great Depression, is nicknamed Black Tuesday, and was preceded by Black Thursday, a downturn on October 24 the previous week.
- Black Monday, stock market crash on October 19, 1987.
- Black Wednesday caused Britain to pull out of the European Exchange Rate Mechanism.
- Black Friday, various tragic events.
- Black months include:
- The Black Death, also known as the Black Plague, was a pandemic in Europe that killed tens of millions of people.
- The Black Hole of Calcutta was the overcrowding of an impromptu prison cell in which many died.
- A black-hearted person is mean and unloving.
- A blacklist is a list of undesirable persons or entities (to be placed on the list is to be “blacklisted”).
- Black comedy is a form of comedy dealing with morbid and serious topics.
- A black mark against a person relates to something bad they have done.
- A black mood is a bad one (cf Winston Churchill‘s clinical depression, which he called “my black dog”).
- Black market is used to denote the trade of illegal goods, or alternatively the illegal trade of otherwise legal items at considerably higher prices, e.g. to evade rationing.
- Black propaganda is the use of known falsehoods, partial truths, or masquerades in propaganda to confuse an opponent.
- Blackmail is the act of threatening to reveal information about a person unless the threatened party fulfills certain demands. This information is usually of an embarrassing or socially damaging nature. Ordinarily, such a threat is illegal.
- If the black eight-ball, in billiards, is sunk before all others are out of play, the player loses.
- The black sheep of the family is the ne’er-do-well.
- To blackball someone is to block their entry into a club or some such institution. In the traditional English gentlemen’s club, members vote on the admission of a candidate by secretly placing a white or black ball in a hat. If upon the completion of voting, there was even one black ball amongst the white, the candidate would be denied membership, and he would never know who had “blackballed” him.
- Black tea in the Western culture is known as “crimson tea” in Chinese and culturally influenced languages, (紅 茶, Mandarin Chinese hóngchá; Japanese kōcha; Korean hongcha), perhaps a more accurate description of the color of the liquid.
- “The black” is a wildfire suppression term referring to a burned area on a wildfire capable of acting as a safety zone.
- Black coffee refers to coffee without sugar or cream.