Yarok ירוק in modern Hebrew means green. What color does it refer to in Mishnaic Hebrew? I have heard that it refers to yellow and not green because the Mishna in Sukkah (on 34b) discusses a citron which is "Yarok like a leek" implying that plain yarok is not like a leek, ie not green. ShmuelBrill in a comment says that Yarok sometimes means yellow and sometimes means green. It seems odd to me that one word would mean two colors. Can anyone explain?
Tosafos on succah 31b sv "Hayarok KeKharti" translate the word yarok in several different ways. Furthermore, rashi and several ashkenazi rishonim usually translate "תכלת" as "yarok", which could suggest that yarok means blue (unless they are saying that techelet is green...). Rav Yosef Dov Soloviechik has been quoted as saying that yarok in rashi means blue. This is also what the sifsei chachamim say.
Yarok in Nidah seems to mean a golden yellow color. However, there is some discussion that it may mean green. If I'm not mistaken, there is also some discussion about what "golden yellow" means, leading to an implication that it may, in fact, be a shade of red.
Confused yet? I sure was. I'll have to look at the sources again to find out what they really say, but I remember thinking this was really bizarre.
Jastrow describes the colour as "light-colored, yellow or greenish," presumably based on the mishnaic sources he cites.
However, Sokoloff translates ירוק as "yellow" and (oddly) ירק as "green" in his Babylonian Aramaic dictionary. In his Palestinian Aramaic dictionary he translates ירק as "green, yellow".
The entry in the Comprehensive Aramaic Lexicon for ירוק notes:
It is unclear if there is a difference in shade among dialects. If so, it is that in Jewish dialects it is more yellowish than not.
But see also the translations of the root ירק and its other derivatives (see bottom of page), which generally agree here with Sokoloff. The comment there states
yrq is the color of vegetable matter, from yellow-green to blue-green.
Yarok, therefore, seems to have generally been a yellowish/greenish colour—at least during the rabbinic period.
In the EHLL article "Color Terms" (by Tamar Sovran), the following, however, is stated:
The color green (יָרֹק yå̄rōq) in Job (39.8) is related to יֶרֶק yεrεq ‘grass’, to judge by its position vis-à-vis the word מִרְעֶה mirʿε ‘pasture’ in the following parallelism: יְת֣וּר הָרִ֣ים מִרְעֵ֑הוּ וְאַחַ֖ר כָּל־יָר֣וֹק יִדְרֽוֹשׁ || yəṯūr hå̄rīm mirʿēhū || wə-ʾaḥar kål-yå̄rōq yiḏrōš ‘It ranges the hills for its pasture and searches for any green thing’. In Leviticus (13.49) a green mold (נֶגַע יְרַקְרַק neg̅aʿ yəraqraq) is mentioned. The meaning of the expression יְרַקְרַק חָרוּץ yəraqraq ḥå̄rūṣ (Ps. 68.14) is not clear, but the context shows a connection to the shimmering of gold and silver: כַּנְפֵ֣י י֭וֹנָה נֶחְפָּ֣ה בַכֶּ֑סֶף וְ֜אֶבְרוֹתֶ֗יהָ בִּֽירַקְרַ֥ק חָרֽוּץ kanp̄e yōnå̄ nεḥpå̄ bak-kεsεp̄ wə-ʾεḇroṯεha b-īraqraq ḥå̄rūṣ ‘the wings of the dove are covered with silver, and her pinions with the shimmer of gold’.
Languages have different terms for colors. It's actually quite common for one word to serve for blue, green and yellow. ירוק is a term clearly related to yerakot which comes in the green-to-yellow range, so I would assume that it fills that role.
Why does English have only one word that means kachol and techelet?
Anything from yellow to green.
Anthropologists will tell you that different cultures can have words that mean a variety of colors; yet it appears that the color wheel as we know it is universal -- no known language has the same word for a color and its opposite, and no known language uses one word for non-contiguous colors on the wheel.