Vaguely Interesting Snippets | 26 March 2014

Magenta gets its name from a bloody battlefield in Italy

In the mid-nineteenth century, chemists were having financial success by creating chemical compounds for new shades of colour. French chemist Francois-Emmanuel Verguin invented a reddish-purple dye and called it “fuchsine” as it evoked the color of a fuchsia in bloom.

A similar colour was created by British chemists Chambers Nicolson and Georges Maule. It was initially called “roseine”, another example of floral inspiration. It found greater success, however, when the name was changed to magenta. This commemorated the battle fought between the French and Austrians at Magenta in Italy. The battle, according to David Gilmour, “was so sanguinary that it gave its name to the artists’ colour magenta”.

Italian was only spoken by approximately 2.5% of the population when the Kingdom of Italy was formed

In the mid-nineteenth century, Italian could more properly be called Tuscan. Other parts of Italy had very distinct dialects. David Gilmour’s The Pursuit of Italy notes that:

“In 1861, the year the Kingdom of Italy was born, it has been calculated that one Italian in forty (2.5 per cent of the population of the peninsula) spoke Italian: just over 630,000 people – mainly Tuscans speaking what was after all their own dialect – out of a total of 25 million.”