It is extremely rare that I answer an English quiz question correctly and when, miraculously, I do, it’s normally because it’s related to the French language, so it’s never entirely satisfying. For a French translator, there is really no glory in knowing that the English word “puce” was borrowed from the French word meaning “flea”. However, I was intrigued by the shift from insect to colour, so I had to look it up. I now know that it is used to describe a brownish pink colour because it’s the colour of the belly of a flea (or of a squashed flea, or of flea droppings, as Wikipedia tells us). I also learnt that “puce” is used in the same sense in French, but exclusively in the fashion industry, and that it is a colour popular in the Goth sub-culture. I did know, obviously, that it is a term of endearment in French.


“brownish-purple,” 1787, from French puce “flea-color; flea,” from Latin pucilem (nominative pulex) “flea”. That it could be generally recognised as a color seems a testimony to our ancestors’ intimacy with vermin.