It’s the color I turn when I’m stood up.
Dear WD: What’s the connection between “maroon,” meaning “leave stranded” and “maroon,” the reddish-purple color? Is there any? — Edith Freedle, New York, NY
Brace yourself, Edith. Oddly enough, there is no connection whatever. “Maroon,” the verb meaning to abandon or strand, and “maroon” the color are good examples of “homonyms,” words which are spelled and pronounced the same but which have different meanings and origins. English is rife with homonyms, a source of frustration for students faced with learning our sometimes tricky language. Imagine, for instance, trying to fathom the rationale behind “pool” the game, as opposed to the “pool” of “swimming pool.” There is no logical connection between the two words, which have entirely different origins and just happen to look and sound alike.
Meanwhile, back at our two “maroons,” both words have, shall we say, colorful histories. “Maroon” the color comes from the Italian “marrone,” a large chestnut of Southern Europe, which is, presumably, maroon. (The word “chestnut,” incidentally, has nothing to do with any sort of chest, but comes from the same Latin root that gave us “castanet,” for you flamenco fans out there.)
The other “maroon” comes from the Spanish word “cimarron,” meaning wild or untamed. “Maroons” were originally runaway slaves in the West Indies who, having escaped their bondage, fled into the forests and mountains of the islands to live. The nefarious practice of 17th century pirates and buccaneers abandoning their captives on deserted islands also became known as “marooning.” Somewhat later, Daniel Defoe’s fictional Robinson Crusoe, “marooned” by a shipwreck, became perhaps the most famous case of waiting for Friday to arrive. “Marooned” eventually came to mean simply “lost in the wilds.” Today, we use it as a metaphor for anything from being stranded with car trouble to the outcome of a bad blind date.