Word of the Week: Xanthochroid

When I was a kid, my family used to love to play board games. These games were not only fun, but many were meant to be learning experiences. My father was particularly fond of playing games with his children. One of the games we played sometimes was Anagrams.

In Anagrams, a player thinks of a word and uses letter tiles to spell it out, scrambling the letters. The other players have to figure out what word it is.

I wasn’t much good at Anagrams, because being the youngest I had the smallest vocabulary. We weren’t supposed to use a dictionary, but to break my losing streak, I asked my dad if I could use a dictionary, just once…  He allowed it.

Of course, I turned to the most exotic letter – X – and found a word that stumped him, my mother, and all my siblings. That word was xanthochroid.  I remember this word to this day, although I never use it in casual conversation, or even in formal essays!

One thing I like about it, though, is that it describes ME!

Bilingual=Life squared

I always thought it was a noun, e.g. “I am a xanthochroid“, but in fact, it’s an adjective, according to dictionary.com, which defines  xanthochroid as follows:


1.(rare) of, relating to, or designating races having light-coloured hair and a pale complexion.
Notice that this word is “rare”. That’s why it’s a fun word to use in games like Anagrams! Dictionary.com goes on to define it basically the same way as a medical term:

xanthochroid in Medicine

xanthochroid xan·tho·chroid (zān’thə-kroid’)

Having a light complexion and light hair. n.
A person having a light complexion and light hair.

Perhaps it’s a term used more often in medicine than anyplace else.

The origin of the word xanthochroid comes from  Greek:
xanthos (1829) meaning “yellow” + ōkhros meaning “pale”.

The prefix xantho- is used in many scientific words, such as xanthein (1857) “soluble yellow coloring matter in flowers,” and xanthophyll (1838) “yellow coloring matter in autumn leaves.”

Professor R. Huxley wrote a scientific paper entitled “On the Geographical Distribution of the Chief Modifications of Mankind”, which was published in the Journal of the  Ethnological Society of London in 1870 and discussed the distribution of people with various racial characteristics throughout the world. Here is a short quote from that paper: 

III. The Xanthochroic Type …

A third extremely well-defined type of mankind is exhibited by the greater part of the population of Central Europe. These are the Xanthochroi, or fair whites. They are of tall stature and have the skin almost colourless, and so delicate that the blood really shows through it. The eyes are blue or grey; the hair light, ranging from straw-colour to red or chestnut; the beard and body-hair abundant. 

I don’t consider my skin to be “almost colorless” although I can see my veins on my wrist and forearm. Here, then, are some images of xanthochroid people:

Left: Two women from Iceland;  Right: a young Scot

This is the best picture taken of me in years! Dale looks OK too.
A favorite picture of me (xanthochroid) with my husband (not xanthochroid!)

Doing research on this word, I discovered that Xanthochroid is the name of a “black metal” band! According to its web site, it  strives to produce the most sophisticated and enthralling compositions in the metal scene today. … Xanthochroid combines many styles into a blackened cloud of legendary metal might.

Seems to be an oxymoron – “black”metal band named after very “white” people?? The guy in the back row at left is definitely xanthochroid!

A leaf with xanthophyll


4 thoughts on “Word of the Week: Xanthochroid

  1. I used to tell my students, “If you don’t learn something new every day, you might as well have stayed in bed.” Here’s mine for today – glad I got up!

  2. Interesting post. I had to go to dictionary.com to see if they had the speaker by the word so I could hear it pronounced. (they didn’t)…but it was good to review the pronunciation guide. Hmmm…I’ll have to figure out somewhere to use this word. Thanks again. :o)

  3. But alas her tender spirit
    Has gone away at last
    For in my most desparate hour
    She did not come
    No empty blessings
    No friendly ghost
    To fill me with false hope
    Or haunt me with happy dreams

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