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The German Colour Eigengrau Posted by on May 23, 2018 in Grammar, Intercultural, Language

When you walk around in pitch dark, you only see black in front of you, right? In German, you see a colour called Eigengrau. Eigengrau, which literally means own grey or intrinsic grey, is the shade of black seen by the eye in complete darkness. On the Hex colour chart, where black is #000000, Eigengrau is #16161d.

Eigengrau-vs-black.png
By Private DetectiveOwn work, CC BY-SA 4.0, Link

Eigengrau is also sometimes called Eigenlicht (‘Own light’ or ‘Intrinsic light’), and is also a German loanword used in English.

The German word ‘eigen’ means ‘own’, as in ‘my own car’. In German, the most common way of using the word eigen is by saying something like:

Das ist mein eigenes Fahrrad
That is my own bicycle

The word Eigengrau or ‘own grey’ suggests that it is your ‘own’ colour; you see this shade of grey, rather than perfect black, as a result of signals from your optic nerves.

Image taken from Pixabay

The word eigen is used surprisingly often in English maths and physics terminology, where it is used to create words that are half English and half German! Here are a few examples of words that use the word eigen in maths and physics:

Eigenfrequency
Eigenvalue
Eigenvector
Eigensystem
Eigenspace
Eigenaxis
Eigenangle

I’m no scientist or mathematician, so I couldn’t tell you what all of these mean, but from a linguistic point of view, the use of the word ‘eigen’ makes all of these relate to an object or entity’s intrinsic characteristics – so an Eigenvalue would be an entity’s intrinsic or ‘own’ value.

Image taken from Pixabay.

Going back to German, here are a selection of words you will find that start with the word eigen. Notice how they are all words that relate to ‘owning’ something, something that comes from or goes to oneself. I have put the original words (without ‘eigen’) and their translations in bold.

die Eigenwärmebody heat
das Eigentor – own goal
die Eigen
liebe – self-love

I hope you’ve enjoyed this post about the quirky little word that is eigen! Have you seen or heard any words beginning with eigen? Were they German or English? Let me know in the comments!

Bis bald

Constanze

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About the Author: Constanze

Servus! I'm Constanze and I live in the UK. I'm half English and half German, and love writing about German language and culture. I also work as a group fitness instructor and am training to be a personal trainer.