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Used to be, colors were colors. Now, colors are concepts. If you make a habit of mail-order Christmas shopping, you'll know what we mean.

Tweeds and J. Crew, two very hip clothing catalogs, are finding very hip ways to describe their earthy colors.

Since earthy colors demand earthy names, catalogs have us buying things like "nutmeg" pants, "gourd" sweaters and "lava" T-shirts. It takes a bit of getting used to.

The people at Tweeds must know, for example, that "vicuna" sounds far more exotic than "brown."

After all, Webster's defines "vicuna" as "a cud-chewing animal of the camel family" -- and isn't that what all of us want to look like?

If you wish to resemble other mammals, choose from "mongoose," "deer" or "bear heather."

Their selection reflects all of nature, from animal (vicuna) to vegetable (corn) to mineral (quartz). Others are more abstract, like "Alaska," "Midnight" and "Navajo."

And little-used words like "aubergine," meaning eggplant, challenge the vocabulary. We're still trying to figure out what "hermelyn" means.

We salute them for their creativity, and trust that they will continue to avoid choosing words like "toxic green," "crude oil" and "exhaust."

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