Saffron is “a yellowish-orange color” that shares a name with the popular spice made from dried Crocus sativus. The color of saffron yellow is a warm, almost mustard hue of yellow that could be used to talk about the particular fiery yellow of a sunset or the rolling saffron hills during a summer in the countryside. Saffron was first recorded in English in the late 1100s. It derives from zaʿfarān, the Arabic word for saffron.
This shade of yellow comes to us from the tan family. Tawny means “a shade of brown tinged with yellow; dull yellowish brown.” It has been in use in English since at least 1350, it can be traced to the Middle French tané, a past participle of taner, or “to tan.” Tawny is used for things that have a dull yellow mixed with plenty of brown or tan, such as a tawny owl or the tawny crust of a fresh loaf of bread.
Lemon has been used to describe a certain shade of yellow since at least 1800. In fact, lemon is probably one of the first words that comes to mind when you think of the color yellow. Lemon yellow is “a clear, yellowish-green color,” much like the color of the fruit itself. Of course, lemons aren’t the only examples of lemon yellow. You could also use this one to talk about everything from sunflowers to taxis.
You may have seen the word flaxen used in fairytales to describe the heroine’s flaxen hair. Flaxen means “of the pale yellowish color of dressed flax.” Flaxen is used to describe very pale, fair shades of yellow, which makes it an ideal choice for writers describing hair or clothing. It has been in use in English since the early 1500s.
You’re likely familiar with amber as fossilized tree resin. When we use amber to describe colors, that’s the color we’re talking about as well. Amber is defined as “the yellowish-brown color of resin.” Amber was first recorded in English in the late 1300s.
Ocher, pronounced [ oh-ker ], isn’t only one color of yellow. It actually describes a range of colors of earthy pigments, “from pale yellow to orangish or reddish yellow.” It’s the yellow of certain spices, like turmeric, or the earthy, golden hue of sand. The first usage of ocher in English occurred in the mid to late 1300s, and it can be traced all the way back to the Greek ṓchrā, or “yellow.”
You might see this particular shade of yellow on a stroll through the garden. Primrose is a “pale yellow” named for the primrose flower family. The word comes from Medieval Latin prīma rosa, or “first rose,” and was first recorded in English in the late 1300s. Despite its pale hue, primrose has shades of white and bright yellow that make it the perfect word for describing light yellow fabrics, paints, or even the sky at first light.
Canary yellow is a “light, clear shade of yellow” like the color of yellow daisies. The word canary was first used to refer to colors as early as 1818.
This shade of yellow takes its name from a gemstone. It’s a variety of quartz, to be exact. A citrine yellow is “pale-yellow; lemon-colored.” In some cases, it may have a translucent quality, like that of a gemstone. You might use citrine to talk about the pale sunlight streaming through the window following a storm or even, perhaps, a cool glass of lemonade.
Fallow is a “pale-yellow or light-brown” color that you might see on fading leaves in the fall. It has warm tan and brown undertones that make it a perfect descriptor for things in nature. The word fallow also has a long history in English. It has been in use since before the year 1000, and it derives from the Old English fealu, or “yellow tending toward red, brown or gray.”