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2016 | 64 | 69-98

Article title

Varvisonad ja varvisumbolid eesti moistatuste alaliikides


Title variants

Colour terms and colour symbols in the subgenres of Estonian riddles

Languages of publication



The article analyses colour names in the three most widely spread subgenres of Estonian riddles – classical or ordinary riddles, conondrums, and droodles – focusing on the specific features of each subgenre and their specific differences. The main questions concern the more frequent colour names by subgenres, their more general usage relations, and the use of colours in image creation. Classical riddles belong to a more archaic layer and are, by their nature, poetic descriptions of an object or a phenomenon, in which the image expresses mainly the appearance of the answer object, the facets perceived by senses. Colour names occur frequently in the image creation of riddles, serving as primary indicators in describing an object or a phenomenon and providing a hint at the answer. Classical riddles manifest the importance of colours in the semantic-lexical imagery of riddles (image stereotypes and form patterns), which can roughly be divided into two: 1. In texts with defined subjects, in which the image coincides with the syntactic subject of the descriptive sentence, the subject is often a zoological term, which is complemented by a colour (e.g. clichés such as grey/black/white ox; black pig and red piglets); yet, colour is also essential in human images (e.g. black man, red boy). 2. Texts with undefined subjects, in which the object to be guessed is presented indirectly by means of its activity, qualities, relations, places, time, etc., and colour names are applied in form stereotypes based on some kind of paradoxical differences or contradictions. Conondrums and droodles as more recent subgenres are oriented on humour; they both express cultural stereotypes and symbols by means of colours. As compared to the colour statistics of classical riddles, in conondrums the leading position is occupied by the subject-related term ‘blond’, which marks a fair-haired and fair-skinned person, and is caused by the multitude of jokes about dim-witted blondes that became popular in the second half of the 1990s. Colours play an important role in the absurd questions beginning in ‘What is…?’, as well as internationally known absurd series of elephant-questions, in which the opposition of two colour shades (light-dark, white-black) is widely spread as a humour-creating method. The colour image of the black-and-white droodles often contains the inducing of visual imagination and the occurrence of colour in both the question and answer. Text examples originate from internet databases Estonian Riddles (Krikmann & Krikmann 2012), Estonian Conondrums (Voolaid 2004), and Estonian Droodles (Voolaid 2002), based mainly on the manuscript material of the Estonian Folklore Archives as well as different publications and internet material.


  • Estonian Literary Museum, Vanemuise 42, 51003 Tartu, ESTONIA


Document Type

Publication order reference


YADDA identifier

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