Awesome words: Incarnadine



Incarnadine: the colour of blood, or to bloody or stain with red.

This word comes from the Latin incarnare, which means to ‘make flesh’. It probably originally meant ‘flesh coloured’, however its current use stems from these immortal lines from Shakespeare’s Macbeth (1605), just after Macbeth has murdered Duncan, and he begins to apprehend the horror of the act he has just committed:

Will all great Neptune’s ocean wash this blood
Clean from my hand? No; this my hand will rather
The multitudinous seas incarnadine,
Making the green one red.

Macbeth, Act 2, scene 2

Why do I love this word? It’s so close to so many other great words dealing with the flesh that give it a range of delicious overtones and associations. Incarnate, for example. This association gives incarnadine a truly arcane sense, as though the colour itself represents something more amorphous, and has been imbued by some supernatural agency. Nothing ever starts out incarnadine. It is a colour that something becomes through some sort of Mephistophelean act.

Then there’s, carnal, which in my mind is quite a dark word and gives incarnadine an array of darkly sensual overtones. You can’t escape the fact that flesh is at the centre of incarnadine. The word has an ineluctable physicality about it.

And, of course, that slaughterous word, carnage, which is all about violence and blood and rent flesh. Incarnadine is not a quiet, demure colour. It’s the colour of vengeance and guilt and dark, terrible acts. It’s a colour with story.


Leave a comment

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s