Why does “puce” mean two different colors depending on where you live?

The color puce is sometimes thought of as purple and sometimes green. However, the word is used correctly when it refers to something purple. The use of it to describe a shade of green is a misconception.

Puce is a particular shade of purple, often dull or dusky with underlying brown tones. According to Dictionary.com, puce is “of a dark or brownish purple.” It can also have grayish hints or even be more of a dark red than a purple. However, it does land squarely in the purple family and should not be used to describe something green.

The English language is rich with words for different colors. Clothing companies and makeup manufacturers offer prime examples of how many different ways you can say red, purple, or pink. But sometimes using a more specific word, such as ‘scarlet’ instead of the generic word ‘red’ can be confusing. People do picture colors differently, and thus there can be confusion.

When people use the word ‘puce’ to describe something green, they are usually referring to a yellowish-green shade or a pea green. This particular usage seems to be more widespread in the UK than in the USA. However, this definition of the word is not found in any dictionary. To save confusion, it is best to use the word only to refer to something of a purplish hue.

Words do change meaning over time, and there may come a day when ‘puce’ is defined as green in the dictionary, but today is not that day.


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