Describe yellow without resorting to a description of wave lengths or to nouns that are themselves yellow, e.g., “the color of a banana.”
That's the challenge a friend gave me recently. Frankly, I'm not very good at such things. But whenever I’m given a tough assignment like this one, I always think of the comedy team of Bob and Ray, who themselves tackled many a tough assignment. With apologies to both of them, I throw up my hands in failure and offer the following:
Bob: Greetings, this is Wally Ballou on the street. Sir, may I ask your name?
Ray: Um, I don’t usually talk to strangers but since you have a microphone, I don’t know, it’s somehow more compelling, almost irresistible, if you know what I mean, like you’re magnetic, or like some giant vacuum sucking me toward you, or like that tractor beam thingy on TV, right?
Bob: So you’ll give me your name?
Ray: Oh, that. Yes, just call me Fred.
Bob: Fred What?
Ray: How did you know?
Ray: Yes, Fred Watt.
Bob: Ooookay, why don’t we just call you Fred?
Ray: That suits me just fine.
Bob: Fred, let’s get right to it. I have a question for you, a tough question. In fact, it is SO tough that not one single passerby has been able to answer it.
Bob: It’s true. So far we’ve asked a doctor, a lawyer—
Ray: Ha-ha. And an Indian chief.
Bob: No, not hardly, but the question HAS stumped a rocket scientist, a mathematician, and a dental hygienist.
Ray: A hygienist? Wow, must be some tough question. Then again, hygienists are known more for their questions than their answers?
Bob: How’s that?
Ray: The way they just pepper you with questions when your mouth is stuffed with cotton and mirrors and those pointy instruments.
Bob: Right, right.
Ray: And if you try to reply, all you can manage is grunts, like some moron.
Bob: Yes, well—
Ray: I mean, how could you answer ANYTHING under those conditions?
Bob: I see your point, but it’s really beside the point, which is of course the question I need to ask you.
Ray: Shoot, I’m all ears.
Bob: Okay, then. Can you describe the color yellow without referencing nouns that are yellow themselves, you know, like “yellow is the color of bananas,” or without getting into the mumbo jumbo about wavelengths and such.
Ray: You mean like in surfing?
Bob: What? Oh . . . No, I think you’ll find surfers are more interested in wave HEIGHTS, not lengths. No, I meant you couldn’t describe yellow as, say, the color evoked in the human observer by radiant energy with wavelengths of approximately 570 to 590 nanometers.
Ray: Wow, that’s quite a mouthful. Did the rocket scientist know that?
Bob: He did.
Ray: But not an acceptable answer?
Ray: Hmm, this is tough. So no bananas, lemons, suns, mustard, and such?
Ray: So what if I said it doesn’t look like green.
Bob: As true as that is, that would not be enough.
Ray: Not orange then?
Bob: Again, not enough.
Ray: What if I said it was very bright and cheery?
Bob: Well, you might be onto something there, but—
Ray: Kinda makes me happy, too.
Bob: Yes, it is a happy color, I’ll have to give you that.
Ray: Then again, I don’t know, it kinda ALARMS me, too, like it’s warning me about something.
Bob: Like what?
Ray: Some kinda danger, maybe a ninja jumping out from behind a bush. But at the same time . . .
Ray: At the same time, it makes me feel warm, almost hot, like the—
Bob: Don’t say sun.
Ray: Good catch. Man, this is tough.
Bob: I didn’t say it would be easy.
Ray: Say, is there a prize for getting this right?
Bob: Why, yes there is. A trip around the world for you and a loved one, plus a million dollars a month for the rest of time.
Ray: That’s a pretty decent prize. Pretty decent.
Bob: We thought so.
Ray: So, did I win?
Bob: Not hardly.
Bob: A nice try though.
Ray: Well, then, I guess I’ll be on my way.
Bob: Good talkin’ to you.
Ray: Say, before I go, can I ask YOU a question?
Ray: I couldn’t help noticing that bird on your shoulder. What is it?
Bob: My pet canary, Morty.
Ray: Pretty bird. Love the color. What is that?
Ray: Really? I would have said it was more like the color of bananas, or maybe lemons.
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Not familiar with Bob and Ray? Check them out on YouTube.