Green, a colour that is all around us, the colour of grass, the colour of leaves, of moss, of the stems of flowers, of so many things growing around us!
So it is hardly surprising that we have been using this word for a very long time, and it is natural that it should be linked to plants and foliage – a natural association for a natural colour.
In Middle English there were a variety of spellings, such as grein, griene, grine, grone, and grenne, but they are similar enough that the word does not appear to have been very different in the various dialects.
We find it in Old English as grene, where it is used to mean not just “green in colour”, but also “greenery, foliage”, as indeed it may be used today, but also “young, raw”, by association with the idea of a young plant, still fresh and green, not withered and turning yellow or brown.
Here is an example of grene in the Anglo-Saxon version of Genesis, dating to the first half of the ninth century:
Bróhte seó culufre elebeámes twig … gréne blǽde
(A dove brought him an olive twig with green leaves)
The word derives from a Germanic root – there are cognates in several other Germanic languages today, such as German grün, Dutch groen, Danish grøn, Swedish grön, etc.
It comes from a Proto-Indo-European root meaning “grow”, and of course the colour has been linked from the very beginning with things that grow, the colour of growing plants. The root is *ghre-, and from here we take not just green, but also grass and the verb grow itself, a wonderful example of how, no matter how long ago and how far we may seem to have come, some things remain the same at heart and do not change.