Tuesday, March 24, 2009

Sphinx Purple

What is applied on four nails in the morning, two nails at noon, and three nails in the evening?

The answer, of course, is Sphinx Purple.

My first thought when I hear "Sphinx" is that big ol' fellow sitting out in Giza, which does such a good job of blending into the desert because it is sand-colored, not purple. But there are a wide variety of sphinxes in various cultural histories, and I am sure the nail polish namers have a very good reason for associating it with purple.

Now, the traditional portrayal of the Sphinx is a human head (some shade between peach and brown) on the body of a lion (golden). But in Egypt the head can sometimes also be a falcon's (brown, white, or gray), a hawk's (same), or a ram's (same plus black).

Hmm, no purple yet. Let's move onto other cultures. If we're going Greek, a sphinx can also have the wings of an eagle (black) and the tail of a serpent (green, yellow, red, brown, black, orange). And there's a Thai sphinx variant who might have the lower body of a deer (brown).

Still nothing? I could be looking at this too narrowly. Maybe we should consider the materials out of which a sphinx might be carved. They have been made out of all kinds of things, like limestone (sandy), granite (black, white, gray), and alabaster (uh...white).

That's it, I give up. There is a way to tie the concept of a sphinx to every conceivable color EXCEPT purple.

Wait! Wait, I've got it. The word sphinx comes from the Greek Σφίγξ, apparently from the verb σφίγγω (sphíngō), meaning "to strangle". (Thanks, Wikipedia!) So maybe this is the color that the Sphinx's victims turned after they failed at Elementary Riddles 101. Just what I always wanted to paint my nails.


  1. So aside from the fact that nail polish can be fun to apply to one's nails, ahem, your work writing this has convinced me once again that being a girl would be impossibly hard work.

    Variety is not the spice of life when you just want to pain a damn fingernail "red."

  2. I admit, it is pretty tough. With all the ovulating and nail-polish-mocking I have to do it is hard to find time to fit in my reading.

    However, I take issue with the idea that nail polish is fun to apply to one's nails. A nice coat of nail polish is fun to HAVE on one's nails. Trying to put it on, especially using the non-dominant hand to apply to the dominant hand, is like trying to paint the roof of a house with your feet. You balance on one foot so you can use the other, the paint starts dripping everywhere, you try to clean it up but just end up tripping and stomping on the paint you have already applied. The fiddler who is sitting on the roof starts playing a mocking tune. You lunge at him, stumble, and fall crashing to the ground. Blood seeps out of your cracked skull and you finally have a nice shade of red.

  3. Panderbear, you are such the erudite satirist with your Sphinx joke! Not to mention the spot-on description of nail polish application. ::applauding::

  4. Thanks, Ink, you are too sweet. I am glad somebody appreciates my Sphinx joke--I have to step up my references with my new-found audience of professors!