The fun loving Irish Water Spaniel can be found in any color as long as it is “rich liver to dark liver with a purplish tinge.” In the breed standard, this color is referred to as “puce liver,” or simply “puce.” This purplish hue is unlike the color of any other known breed, and the Irish Water Spaniel is the only AKC breed for whom puce is an acceptable color. The origin of the word, “puce” and its use for a dog color, however, is curious. It comes from the French and means “flea-colored.”
We’ve personally never gotten close enough to a flea to determine its color (and we hope we never do), but apparently the French have. Still, we had to check it out for ourselves. The only photo we found of a flea remotely purple in color was this one, and it was photographed with an electron micrograph.
Max Knoll and Ernst Ruska overcame the barrier to higher resolution imposed by the limitations of visible light by inventing the electron microscope in 1931. Oxford Dictionary, however, notes that the first recorded use of the word, “puce,” came far earlier in 1787. Writer, The Sexy-Gross Story of Puce” that the word came even earlier. She writes that in the summer of 1775, “French dressmaker Rose Bertin made Marie-Antoinette a gown in a color that blurred the lines between brown and maroon with only a hint of pinkish-gray. According to a biography of Bertin, the Louis XVI strode into a room where his wife was hanging out, wearing her brand new silk dress, and exclaimed, ‘That is puce!’ He had observed, and rightfully so, that her dress was the same color as a flea (or, in French, “une puce”).”
It’s a marvelous article that we encourage you to read in its entirety, but what puzzles us is that every photo we’ve seen of a flea shows it to be an amber color. What gives?
Perhaps the answer comes from another article we found in the blog, Metrolingua. Margaret Larkin poses the notion that speakers of different languages see color differently, and that languages divide and assign colors in their own way. She cites as an example Lakota, the language spoken by the Sioux in which blue and green are represented as shades of one color. It’s a fascinating concept that you can read more of here, but it still leaves us with the question of how a French word came to be used to describe the color of an Irish breed.
The things that makes us go, “hmmm.”
Image: Irish Water Spaniel/DepositPhotos