Roy G. … What?

We all met him, didn’t we? I met him in the third grade and we’ve been friends ever since. You know him, right? Of course you do, even if you were never formally introduced. He’s Roy G. Biv.
This handy little mnemonic has helped countless generations of schoolkids remember the order of colors in a rainbow: red, orange, yellow, green, blue, indigo and violet.
There’s one small problem, though. There is no visible violet in a rainbow. Isaac Newton (the fellow that liked to sit around under apple trees, remember?) was the first to understand that a rainbow is caused when white light is broken up and separated into its component colors by the prismatic effect of water droplets. In order from longest to shortest wavelengths, the colors of the visible spectrum are red, orange, yellow, green, blue and indigo. So where did violet come from?
Isaac Newton was an eccentric man, to put it kindly. He was childish, paranoid, prone to delusions and nearly incapable of normal social interactions. He was also highly superstitious. One of his superstitions was that the number seven was a lucky number. He believed so fervently in the power of seven that he added a seventh color to the spectrum. A color that was not really there.
So all of us have been taught not just a misconception, but a deliberate falsehood perpetrated by a scientist who still clung to unscientific beliefs.

Bonus track: There is another, less catchy, more literary-sounding mnemonic to remember the correct order of colors in the spectrum: Richard of York gave battle in vain.


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