What is the most natural way to describe the color of an object as a combination of blue and white? For example we prefer "black and white" to "white and black". Does it matter which color is predominant?

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    No. Blue-white and white and blue are not comparable. Blue-white describes a mixture of the two colours, evenly spread across however much canvass. White and blue is unclear but tends to suggest stripes, or perhaps white clouds against a blue sky. We prefer "black and white" for no obvious reason but it being "black on white" and that's a completely different Question. – Robbie Goodwin Oct 17 at 23:33
  • Are you sure you don't mean pale blue? Is it closer to white? Or closer to blue? Or do you mean 2 distinct colours? – Tom J Nowell Oct 18 at 17:48
  • @TomJNowell: No, I mean a combination of two distinct colours. – Ra. yesterday
  • can you rephrase? a combination of 2 distinct colours could mean 2 different things. E.g. purple is a combination of 2 distinct colours ( red and blue ), or you could be referring to blue and red stripes. It is still ambiguous, an example/image would be helpful – Tom J Nowell yesterday

It's interesting to compare the usage of both orders in the Google Ngram Viewer. In almost all cases, white comes last:

Black (about five times as often):

enter image description here

Blue (about two times as often):

enter image description here

The only exception I could find was yellow, where it's about equal:

enter image description here

Roughly, the order seems to be

red > black > blue, green > yellow, white

In general, the combination with and seems to be preferred over the hyphen:

enter image description here


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    I don’t think there is a “preference” for and over a hyphen—I think they refer to different things. “Blue and white” refers to something that has some blue and some white—stripes, a base color with a trim of another color, etc. “Blue-white” to me connotes a single color, perhaps the color of those LED headlights, or a blowtorch. – KRyan Oct 18 at 0:22
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    @KRyan: Or very hot stars, e.g. types O, B, & A. en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Stellar_classification#Class_O – jamesqf Oct 18 at 2:44
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    @jamesqf Yup, another good example—though technically, arguably, it’s the same example, since a blowtorch gets to be blue-white for the same reason that stars do. – KRyan Oct 18 at 4:36
  • I feel like there's some interesting linguistics here, possibly phonetics-related? in terms of what order the words go in. – Hearth Oct 18 at 14:50
  • @KRyan: Yes, and I think it's a fairly unusual usage. Most similar cases I can think of either have their own names (e.g. pink for 'red-white"), or are an "-ish" combination (e.g. greenish yelllow, reddish purple, &c). Maybe it's because the blue-white of stars, cutting torches, and LEDs represents something physical, an object radiating with a peak in the high end of the visible spectrum, or beyond. – jamesqf Oct 19 at 16:29

Particularly for those of us who learned colors from Crayola crayons, the hyphenated form usually represents a blend of the colors — yellow-orange is a single color, of a hue somewhere in between yellow and orange.

Different distinct colors used in combination are usually listed out, in contrast. The Austrian flag is red and white, the FC Barcelona jersey is red and blue, Delftware pottery blue and white.

There are several common irreversible binomials, notably black and white and black and blue (when referring to bruising). In some other cases, a particular order has become idiomatic. The colors of Princeton University are always orange and black, never black and orange. The American flag is the red, white, and blue and Team Australia the green and gold.

It is difficult to reduce the patten to any kind of rule for general use, however. In pairs, I think the more distinctive color naturally comes first, so the Greek flag would commonly be described as blue and white. On the other hand, the colors of my high school were always given as black and gold, because black was the primary color, and gold only used as an accent.

Ultimately, at least if providing a simple description, I do not think you need to be overly concerned about order. I do not think anyone would object to listing the colors of the Japanese flag as either white and red or red and white.

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    I don't think "silver and gold" is an irreversible binomial – I'd almost always say "gold and silver" instead, and Google Ngrams agrees with me. "Silver and gold" feels like a very particular reference, although to what I can't say. But "the emperor's clothes were gold and silver" is a perfectly normal sentence. (Context: native AmE speaker from the northeast.) But I must say, despite my one quibble there, this was a great answer! – Antal Spector-Zabusky Oct 17 at 23:19
  • @AntalSpector-Zabusky I think you're right about it being a specific reference. In my head I'm hearing a song lyric or poem that goes "something and something and silver and gold", but I can't place where it comes from. – Barmar Oct 17 at 23:54
  • @Barmar: Silver and gold. From the "Rudolph the Red Node Reindeer" Christmas cartoon. – JRE Oct 18 at 13:16
  • @JRE That's not the one I was thinking of. The one in my head is more upbeat and has "something and something" before the phrase. – Barmar Oct 18 at 17:50
  • @AntalSpector-Zabusky "silver and gold" is sometimes a reference to the different pay roles of the Panama Canal. Whites getting gold, Blacks silver. U2 did an anti-apartheid record with the title. – Pete Kirkham Oct 18 at 23:58

You won't notice the difference in spoken language, but another option is to separate colours with a slash, for example "green/yellow" or "black/white" to denote those combination of colours. This is very common when describing objects in product listings or technical specifications, less so in more literary uses.

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