Posted by: Jack Henry | December 23, 2015

Editor’s Corner: Yellow- and rose-colored idioms

It’s the second day of color-related idioms from one of my favorite folks, Grammar Girl! Let’s continue the list today with yellow journalism and rose-colored glasses. Perhaps today’s phrases will be a little more festive and peppy than those of yesterday?

4. Yellow Journalism

Color number four—yellow—moves us to a different kind of sensation: sensational journalism, also known as yellow journalism. This style of reporting, which was at its height in the late 19th century, favors sensationalism over facts. It all came about because of a rivalry between newspaper magnates Joseph Pulitzer, owner of the New York World, and William Randolph Hearst, owner of the Journal. The World published a popular cartoon that featured a character called the Yellow Kid, and this cartoon increased sales tremendously. The Journal realized this and hired the artist away, causing a bidding war. Both papers also increased circulation by focusing their reporting on the Cuban struggle for independence, sometimes bending the truth. These days, our newspapers and Internet news sites are filled with banner headlines, colorful comics, and an abundance of illustrations, and we can thank the yellow journalists of the late 1890s for developing these now-commonplace techniques.

5. Rose-Colored Glasses

Rose is our next color. We use the words rose-colored and rosy to mean optimistic, as in the expressions looking through rose-colored glasses and things are looking rosy. If someone looks at the world through rose-colored glasses, she is perhaps being overly optimistic and in denial. The idea of an idyllic worldview being rosy dates from at least the 17th century, but dates the idiom rose-colored glasses to 1926. Theories about why it means optimistic abound, and we’ll cover a couple.

The first takes us to Victorian times and the thought that an artist could liven up a painting by adding extra roses to it. That sounds reasonable, as does the second theory, which holds that early mapmakers paid such close attention to detail that they needed to keep their spectacles clean with rose petals.

An interesting factoid that came up during research is worth sharing, though it likely has nothing to do with the meaning of rose-colored and rosy: In the early 1900s, some farmers started to place rose-colored glasses on their chickens to reduce cannibalization. The thinking was that the glasses would keep the chickens from recognizing blood on other chickens, which apparently triggers the attack instinct. I wonder if these glasses work or if their use was overly optimistic. [KC – I am a little concerned for Grammar Girl. From roses to chicken attacks—even the chance for something cheerful has passed her by in this article.]

Pulitzer Prize

Hearst Castle

Kara Church

Technical Editor, Advisory

Symitar Documentation Services

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