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Color/Colour idioms in the English language


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We already had many interesting discussions about idioms of a certain kind/type/subject. I would love to take this further, and therefore I would like to ask all of you about color idioms. There must be plenty in the English language, right? Please write down some off the top of your brain and give a short explanation whenever possible.

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The very first color idiom I have heard is "paint the town red" which I believe means to party to your heart's content.

Another one I know is "gray area" which means something that does not conform to an existing set of rules.

"Raise/Waive the white flag" is probably one of the color idiom that is not limited to the English language as almost every language/culture knows what it symbolizes. In fact I don't even have to explain it, should be that easy to figure out.  :laugh:

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  • 2 weeks later...

There are lots of idioms in English with colors.  I thought of a few:

To see someone's true colors -- The person's real character and/or personality emerges.

Horse of a different color -- Refers to something entirely different or in contrast to or an entirely different matter.  As in "Speaking loudly is permitted here, but using a megaphone is a horse of different color." 

Blue ribbon -- something of high or excellent quality. 

Once in a blue moon -- Rare, something that rarely happens

To be in the red -- to be in debt

To be in the black -- to be in profit and/or successful

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I love these types of threads. Let's see...

"Pink slip" means to be fired.

"In the pink" means to have good health

"Tickled pink" means to be happy about something or someone. This was my grandmother's favorite expression.

"Looking at the world through rose colored glasses" mean to be optimistic. Maybe even overly optimistic.

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A few more:

Black and blue -bruised.

Gray area - something that's not clearly defined.

Wave a red flag in front of a bull - make someone angrier.

Blue in the face - to be angry/excited [just a reference to an extremity in showing some emotion].

Get the green-light - get an approval.

Green around the gills - jealous. [really like this one]

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  • 2 weeks later...

I have a few more to add.

He was beaten black and blue - he was beaten very badly/He was bruised all over.

To tell a white lie - to tell a harmless lie.

Raise the white flag - to surrender.

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Nice sharing guys!  :smile: 

When I think of color idioms, the first thing that comes to mind is "red letter day" which refers to a very special day.  Like in calendars where special holidays usually come in red ink.

Another one is "red tape" - usually refers to a long process (because of too many signatories needed, unnecessary formalities, etc.) involved when transacting with a government office.  Ex. Because of red tape, It took me two long weeks before I was able to get my business permit.


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  • 2 months later...

Get the green light- to receive permission.

Black out- someone becomes unconscious or having complete darkness around.

Green with envy- being very jealous.

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Got some greens? - it means having enough money for a certain transaction.  This is actually a reference to the US dollar, although it can also mean other currencies as well.

Are you a yellow dog? - it means a coward or someone who is afraid of something.

What's making you blue? - it means what is troubling the person.

I really like threads such as these as they will help you learn about the language.

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I believe the following were not mentioned yet...

1. Black and white - Straightforward or very clear.  Ex. The rules given are in black and white.

2. Black sheep - The "bad" member of the group or family is referred to as the black sheep.

3. Green thumb - A person with a green thumb is said to be good in gardening.

4. Out of the blue - Something unexpected.  Ex. From out of the blue I got an email from a long lost friend yesterday.


5. Flying colors - related to something exceptionally good.  Ex. He passed the difficult test with flying colors.


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I have a few to share. Some might have been mentioned,but with a different explanation perhaps.  :smile:

'She's feeling blue.' - Very sad about something.

'He's yellow (yellow-bellied)' - Someone is cowardly. I got that one from watching westerns.

'He's got greenbacks to spare.' - He has plenty of money.

'She was caught red-handed.' - Caught in the act of doing something nefarious.

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  • 3 weeks later...

something that was always told to me when I was a kid

"the grass is always greener on the other side" - always wanting what you don't have

"golden opportunity" - the perfect chance

"born with a silver spoon in his/her mouth" - to describe a person who is born rich

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Let me see if I can add a few more.

blue in the face - to be very angry or upset

I argued with my mother until I was blue in the face.

brown bag it - bring your own lunch from home

In order to save some money, I try to brown bag it at least 3-4 times a week.

green around the gills - look sick

After riding the roller coaster, he looks green around the gills.

red-eye - a flight that leaves late at night and arrives early the morning

I caught the red-eye last night in order to arrive on time for this meeting.

This is fun.  I like these types of threads. 

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  • 1 year later...

"I'm all black and blue" means you are severely bruised.  "Black as coal" is pretty self-explanatory.  "Green thumb"  means you are very good with plants; "black thumb" is its opposite.  "Greenhorn" is someone who is woefully inexperienced.  "To have a yellow streak" means someone is a coward; you can also just say "Are you yellow?" meaning "are you scared/cowardly?"  "To catch someone red-handed" means to see them do something wrong.  "White as a ghost" means very pale; usually used after a scare but also can be used to describe someone who is naturally very light skinned.  "Seeing pink elephants" means to imagine something.  "Talk a blue streak" means to talk a lot and rapidly (see Six from Blossom -- she's my best example).

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Feeling blue (sad) is the very first English idiom I remember to have heard ever in life, but there are many colorful idioms coming to mind;

  • Being in the red (being in debt)
  • Out of the blue (something coming unexpectedly)
  • Having a green thumb (being skillful at gardening)
  • Being at the silver screen (at the film industry)
  • Being a blue collar (a worker doing a manual labor)
  • Having a yellow streak (feeling cowardly) 
  • Turning as white as sheet (turning very pale)
  • Having a white elephant (a useless possesion)
  • Receiving a pink slip (being fired)



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