This is for my friend Jenny who got very cross last weekend when she discovered that the colour puce is not, as she thought, a pinky-red colour, but in fact a not-very-nice purply brown. (I thought it was a yellowy green colour, probably because it sounds a bit like ‘puke’, but let’s gloss over that.) So, in an attempt to make her feel a bit better about this, I thought I’d find out some more about it and word-of-the-week it. My apologies for using that as a verb.
‘Puce’ is actually the French word (so I guess we’ll have to give it back after Brexit) for ‘flea’. It’s named after the bloody smudge you get when you squash a flea that’s full of someone’s blood. Gross, right? Having said that, fleas were actually considered quite romantic in ye olde times and turn up in a lot of saucy poems (i.e. porn). One of the most famous is by John Donne (I HATE John Donne – I’ve written many a boring essay on him in my time. Sorry Mr Donne). It’s called, you’ve guessed it, ‘The Flea’. Basically it’s an extended chat-up line about how a flea’s already bitten both the narrator and some poor woman he’s trying to boff. So their bodily fluids have already mingled and they might as well just have some sexy time as they’re already halfway there. *slaps forehead* Although I’ve heard worse chat-up lines to be fair.
If you feel so inclined, you can read the whole poem here.
The colour puce was very popular in late 18th-century France. So much so that when Marie-Antoinette wasn’t eating cake or getting her head cut off, she counted it as one of her favourite colours.