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Mount Orégano
Sue Burke
Olive skin? 
18th-Oct-2017 09:35 am
When I was a young and already avid reader, I saw someone described as having “olive skin.” This puzzled me. As far as I knew, most olives were green, and people weren’t green. There were also black olives, but no one was that color, either.

So what does “olive skin” mean? Now that I’m older and have the riches of the internet at my beck and call, I did some research.

According to Straight Dope and Wise Geek, it means people with a vaguely greenish, golden, or yellowish undertone to their skin. Or maybe it means the stereotypical skin color of Mediterranean peoples who live in olive-growing areas. Or maybe it means people whose skin tone is neither cool nor warm but neutral. Or maybe it means people who tan easily.

Whatever it means, why use “olive skin” at all? I’m not the only person who has doubts. According to Wikipedia background talk, the expression might come from the color of olive oil. Some of Wikipedia’s volunteers are skeptical, querulous, and even derisive of the idea of “olive skin.” I think they have a point.

If I ever use “olive skin” in my own writing, I promise to be careful, perhaps with a Pantone reference to the precise color to avoid confusion. Pantone’s “golden olive” (similar to those olives in the photo) might be suitable for an alien life form’s skin color, but not for someone from Italy.

— Sue Burke

18th-Oct-2017 10:58 pm (UTC)
Olive skin has a greenish undertone. The term has a precise meaning in the makeup industry, where it's necessary because warm-toned makeup looks like clown paint on olive complexions.
19th-Oct-2017 12:33 am (UTC)
Olive skin is a real thing, agreed. But I still think "olive" is an odd name for it.
19th-Oct-2017 02:53 am (UTC)
It is odd - it's like saying someone with a sun-tan is "brown as a berry". WTF? Berries aren't brown! But, looking at pictures of olives on Google Image, I have seen people with complexions to match some of their colors, and wouldn't know how else to describe that range of skin-tones.

Never thought of it before, but indeed it must be difficult for a greenish person to find flattering clothes and makeup in a world geared to the pinkish majority.
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