Posted by: Jack Henry | December 10, 2012

Editor’s Corner: Colors, Part II

Good <yawn> morning! Following up on Friday’s article from (“Idioms Referring to Colors of the Rainbow”), here are a few idioms using the other three colors of the rainbow: green, blue, and violet.


The phrases “green-eyed monster,” an epithet for jealousy, and “green with envy” are perhaps based on the idea that one’s complexion turns a sickly hue when feeling these emotions; similarly, to say that someone looks green (or is green around the gills) means that they appear to be sick.

But green also has positive connotations: To give someone the green light, based on the universal traffic-signal color to indicate “Go,” is to approve a proposal. If you have a green thumb (or, in British English, green fingers), you are adept in gardening—probably because successful gardeners are apparent from the green pigmentation that rubs off from healthy plants to their hands as they handle the vegetation.

Because US paper currency is green, in American English, the color is associated with money and wealth.


Because it is the color of the sky, blue is associated with idioms such as “out of the blue,” “like a bolt from the blue,” and “out of a clear blue sky” that refer to a person, thing, or idea that arrives as if from nowhere. (“Into the wild blue yonder,” meanwhile, refers to a venture into unknown territory.)

“Blue collar” connotes people who work at a trade or as laborers, because such workers at one time commonly wore durable shirts made of blue cotton (as opposed to “white collar,” referring to dress shirts worn by professionals and office workers, and “pink collar,” a later, now frowned-on, reference to women in clerical positions, so labeled because men rarely wore pink.)

Two idioms generally negative in sense include blue-blooded, meaning “aristocratic,” probably because during the era in which the term was coined, nobility tended not to spend time in the sun and their veins showed blue under their pale skin, and “blue-eyed boy,” referring to a favored protégé; this phrase likely stems from the fact that fair-skinned and fair-haired people, who at one time had a social advantage over their swarthier counterparts, are likely to have blue eyes.

Other negative idioms include the use of blue to refer to a sad or bleak mood, as well as “black and blue,” meaning “bruised,” from the color of bruised skin, and “blue in the face,” referring to someone trying (in vain) to persuade another until, from lack of breath, they attain this state.

Purple or Violet

Purple, also called violet, like its color-spectrum counterpart yellow, has little representation in idiomatic language. Purple prose is that which is overwrought or overly complicated, and a shrinking violet is a shy person, though the usage is usually employed in such phrases as “not a shrinking violet” to refer to someone who is anything but shy.

The color purple, because materials for dying fabric in that color were rare and therefore expensive, was reserved for royalty or the wealthy in western cultures and still has an association with nobility. This association resulted in another idiom, “born to the purple,” meaning “someone born to royalty during their reign” and, by extension, referring to children of prominent people.

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