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What's the difference between 'marrón' and 'castaño'? Both seem to mean 'brown' (the color). Are they the same thing? Or do they have distinct differences?

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  • I'd like the question to be edited, to add "café", as it would be a pity to create another question just for that. – Quidam Jan 8 '20 at 16:09
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In Spain we use castaño only to refer to a brownish hair colour (see 3rd meaning in the DRAE: dicho de una persona: que tiene el pelo de un color similar al de la cáscara de la castaña), and marrón for everything else.

The word castaño (as a colour) also appears in some expressions such as esto pasa de castaño oscuro.

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Castaño es la palabra española origina para "brown": color de la castaña.
Marrón figura en los diccionarios con la única acepción de "piedra con que se juega al marro" hasta la edición de 1950 del Diccionario de la lengua, en que figura como "Galicismo por castaño, de color de la castaña".

Por tanto, en principio designaban exactamente lo mismo. Posteriormente se han introducido matices en el uso.

Así, en la edición de 1970 del DLE se especifica que marrón "... no se aplica al cabello de las personas o al pelo de los animales".

Sin embargo ese matiz ha desaparecido en la edición actual [2021], donde marrón se define como:

Del fr. marron 'castaña comestible', 'de color castaño'.

  1. adj. Dicho de un color: Semejante al de la cáscara de la castaña o el pelaje de la ardilla.
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It's one of those subjective things like: difference between purple and violet... Technically (in the printing business for example) there are several parameters that establish that this is purple, this is violet (the components of green, red and blue in the color, for example) but out in the streets a common person could use these two colors almost interchangeable.

In the case of marrón and castaño: for ME, castaño is brownish. Marrón is brown, but almost getting to the red part of the spectrum. But that is in my head. For others it could be different I guess.

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In Latin America, the usual meaning is that of color "brown",

However in a technical setting, such as photography or professional printing, they may refer to different shades of brown, while "marrón" has a connotation of being a lighter shade of brown. (Pantone 18-1415 Marrón, and Pantone 19-1118 Chestnut) are the standard hues.

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In common speech, castaño is used for hair color, or hair dyes, much like "brunette" is used in English instead of brown. Spanish being so rich in vocabulary, has "Bruna" for referring to a woman of brown hair, but "Bruno" is actually a popular male proper name.

while "marrón" is more frequently used to describe colors in almost everything else.

It's when referring to materials in architecture or landscaping, you will find that "marrón" is often used instead of brown, as in "la casa de puertas color marrón y ventanas rojas"

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  • Fun fact. Throughout the spanish speaking world, Bruce Wayne is "Bruno Díaz". Everyone e knows who Bruno Diaz is, just like in the Anglosphere is basic common knowledge – hlecuanda Oct 24 '16 at 23:06
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"Castaño" is derived from the word "castaña" (chesnut), while "marrón" is a Spanish form of the French "marron" (chestnut). "Castaño" and "marrón" both refer to brown. There seems to be a consistent use of "castaño" in hair dye packaging, but there is nothing odd about using "marrón" for brown hair color, as in "me teñi el pelo de marrón".

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