Look At Language Through A Prism With 13 Synonyms For “Rainbow”

Rainbows are perhaps the most eye-catching of natural phenomena. Created from light refracting through a water droplet, the stunning by-product is a stunning display of color in the sky.

Around the world, human societies have assigned a variety of interpretations to rainbows. For some, they symbolize divine oaths or a bridge between heaven and earth; others see them as foreboding omens. But the assorted cultural significance of rainbows is just as colorful as the arc itself.

In the US, the month of June brings out more rainbow flags in celebration of LGBTQ+ community pride. Debuted in 1978, the original LGBTQ+ pride flag featured eight colors (hot pink, red, orange, yellow, green, turquoise, indigo, violet) each with a specific meaning assigned to it (sex, life, healing, sunlight, nature, magic, serenity, and spirit, respectively).

And so, for just as many colors make up a rainbow, we can find just as many synonyms. Here are 13 vivid words and phrases you can use when describing a rainbow.


With the Greek prefix of poly- meaning “many” and the Latin word chromaticus, also originally from Greek khrōmatikos, meaning “color,” polychromatic [ pol-ee-kroh-mat-ik ] literally sums up to “many colors.” When rainbows contain at least seven visible colors (red, orange, yellow, green, blue, indigo, and violet), polychromatic definitely fits the description!


Multicolored dates back to at least the 1800s and combines the Latin prefix for “many” (multi-) with the word color, which itself dates back to the late 1200s. If you have a rainbow in your horizon, you know right away it’s nothing short of multicolored!

Read about the rainbow emoji 🌈 here.


A kaleidoscope is an optical instrument in which bits of glass, held loosely at the end of a rotating tube, are shown in continually changing symmetrical forms by reflection in mirrors set at angles to each other. This results in a continually changing pattern of shapes and colors. Maybe you even played with one of these as a kid! The adjective kaleidoscopic [ kuh-lahy-duhskop-ik ] refers to the changing and variety of colors we see in a rainbow.


A prism is a transparent solid body that can reflect and even refract rays of light into its different natural colors. The word prismatic [ priz-mat-ik ], then, describes the result of that light passing through a prism. Considering that a rainbow is refracted through droplets of water in the air, referring to it as having prismatic colors is accurate.

(color) spectrum

This particular word for rainbow doesn’t come from any mythos or old legends but rather cold, hard physics. Spectrum refers to an array of entities, such as light waves or particles, ordered in accordance with the magnitudes of a common physical property, such as wavelength or mass. You’ll often be able to see or interpret the band of colors produced when the spectrum passes through a refracting medium such as a prism or, in the case of a naturally occurring rainbow, water droplets.

Spectrum was first recorded in the 1600s in English from the Latin word for “appearance” or “form”  and is related to the Latin specere (“to look at, regard”). In an art class, you might refer to all the colors of a rainbow collectively as the color spectrum.

So many colors, where to begin? How about reviewing these synonyms for orange.


The original word underlying holographic is hologram, which comes from the Greek words hólos, or “whole,” and –graphos, or “writing” or “drawing.” A hologram is a three-dimensional image created by light that reflects off an object. While not exactly the same as rainbow, holographic has been informally adapted into everyday language to refer to how something is particularly shiny or able to reflect or refract light into different colors, like a rainbow.


If you imagine a jester from an old European medieval court, you’ll probably picture someone dressed in form-fitting patchwork clothing, usually of different colors. This kind of outfit would be called motley.  Defined as “being of different colors combined,” motley also suits a rainbow quite well, especially in the unity of various colors to make something spectacular.


Sharing the same first half as “multicolored,” multihued tacks on the Latin prefix for “many” to the word hued. Hued means “having the color specified,” so in the case of multihued, it means “many colors.” The Old English word hīw referred to an object’s appearance or color.


Literally meaning “varied coloration,” variegation [ vair-ee-i-gey-shuhn ] is what you get when you have a rainbow. Typically used to describe the variety of colors observable in a species or substance, this word could be used to articulate how—whether they occur during the day or at night or in multiples or individually—rainbows are typically arched with colorful variegation.

band of color

A band doesn’t always refer to a musical group. A band can also be a strip of material, like a belt or a strap, or a stripe of color. First recorded between 1480–90, mostly from Middle English words like bende and biende, which mean “fetter, shackle, or sash,” the band in band of color refers to how a rainbow looks like a belt or stripe of colors in the sky.


Iris was the Greek goddess who delivered messages from the gods to mortals. Can you guess what kind of trail she left in the sky when she relayed these messages from the heavens to earth? That’s right—a rainbow! In addition to referring to rainbows, iris is also used to refer to a colorful species of flower.


Containing the root word for rainbow (iris), iridescent [ ir-i-desuhnt ] is an adjective first recorded in the late 1700s that means “to display several lustrous colors like those of the rainbow.” If you’ve ever looked at the back of a CD or the surface of a soap bubble, you’ll likely notice a splay of colors invoking the hues of a rainbow. You can describe these surfaces as iridescent.


Drawing on the name of the Greek goddess associated with rainbows, iridian is an adjective to describe anything of or relating to a rainbow. So, you might say someone has an iridian collection in their wardrobe if referring to all the motley, multihued, polychromatic, kaleidoscopic clothes they have.

Before you go, show your true colors by taking one more look at these words and reviewing their meanings with our word list found here.

Step outside the rainbow and discover these rare and obscure color words.

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