A rainbow spans a continuous spectrum of colors; the distinct bands are an artifact of human color vision. In ROYGBIV, the colors are arranged in the order of decreasing wavelengths: red is about 650 nm and violet about 400 nm. The acronym is memorable because Roy is a male given name, so Roy G. Biv sounds like a first name, middle initial, and a last name.
In Classical Antiquity, Aristotle claimed there was a scale of seven basic colors. In the Renaissance, several artists tried to establish a new sequence of up to seven primary colors from which all other colors could be mixed. In line with this artistic tradition, Newton divided his color circle, which he constructed to explain additive color mixing, into seven colors. His color sequence including the tertiary color indigo is kept alive today by the Roy G. Biv mnemonic. Originally he used only five colors, but later he added orange and indigo to match the number of musical notes in the major scale.
The Munsell color system, the first formal color notation system (1905), names only five "principal hues": red, yellow, green, blue, and purple (although note that Munsell's purple is not a spectral hue).
Another traditional mnemonic device has been to turn the initial letters of seven spectral colors into a sentence. In Britain the most common is "Richard Of York Gave Battle In Vain." The mnemonic is said to refer to the defeat and death of Richard, Duke of York at the Battle of Wakefield. To avoid reference to this defeat, people from Yorkshire developed the alternative "Rowntrees Of York Gave Best In Value." Alternatively, the biblically inspired "Read Out Your Good Book In Verse," or the more anarchic "Rinse Out Your Granny's Boots In Vinegar," may be used.
In popular culture
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- "Roygbiv" is a song by Boards of Canada, featured on their albums Boc Maxima (1996) and Music Has the Right to Children (1998). It has been covered many times by electronic dance band STS9.
- The "Richard Of York Gave Battle In Vain" mnemonic appears in "Richard of York", a song by Simon Bookish in his Unfair/Funfair (2006) album.* The band Public Service Broadcasting has a song entitled "ROYGBIV" on their 2013 album Inform-Educate-Entertain.
- The alternative rock band They Might Be Giants included a song entitled "Roy G. Biv" on their 2009 children's album Here Comes Science, which describes the visible spectrum using the device of an elf who lives inside the rainbow.
- Newton, Isaac (1704). Opticks.
- "SHiPS Resource Center || Newton's Colors". .umn.edu. Archived from the original on 2014-09-29. Retrieved 2014-05-24.
- Hutchison, Niels (2004). "Music For Measure: On the 300th Anniversary of Newton's Opticks". Color Music. Archived from the original on 2017-01-18.
- "PUBLIC SERVICE BROADCASTING - ROYGBIV". YouTube. Archived from the original on 1 April 2016. Retrieved 2 August 2017.