The meaning of colours in idioms?
I recently remembered a lesson about the meaning of colours in French and when I searched for some articles I came across this one:
"... The seeming arbitrariness of many color idioms is underscored by the fact that in other languages these colors have different associations and are used in idioms with completely different meanings. When Korean speakers say that someone has a “black heart” they mean he has an ulterior motive — nothing to do with the cruelty idea it connotes for us. A thriller novel in Italian is un libro giallo (“a yellow book”), unrelated to the scandal-mongering notion of our “yellow journalism.” In English, “he is blue” means he’s sad. The German translation, however, er ist blau, means “he is drunk.” We use a “white lie” to avoid hurting someone’s feelings. For Turkish speakers, this is a pembe yalan — a pink lie. Korean speakers go one step further with the “lie” color idioms. They speak of “a red lie,” which means a lie which everyone knows is a lie.
A lot of French color idioms are already familiar to us (film noir, la vie en rose, carte blanche) but did you know rire jaune (“to laugh yellow”) is to give a forced, insincere laugh? How about faire quelqu’un marron (“to make someone brown”), which means to cheat on someone? Here’s a question: is inexperience blue or green? The French say être fleur bleue (“to be a blue flower”) for naïveté. The Japanese seem to side with the French — they say an inexperienced person has “a blue butt.” We English speakers, on the other hand, might say “she’s so green” about the unseasoned colleague. That is, unless we add “with envy,” in which case we are talking about something else entirely. Of course, “that company is very green” probably refers to being environmentally aware. ..."
Maybe this is just interesting for you to read or can you give more examples about the meaning of colours in your language and / or the language(s) you learn?
Have fun :)
We English speakers, on the other hand, might say “she’s so green” about the unseasoned colleague.
For what it's worth, it is the same in Russian. Granted, I am biased (these are the two languages I am fluent in), but this makes perfect sence to me: young vegetation is bright green, and then it turns duller or begins fading. I am puzzled as for what the connection between "inexperienced" and "blue" might be...
On a separate note, "blue" (or rather "light blue" - Russian has two common words for "blue", "голубой"="light blue" and "синий"="intense blue") is a common slang for "gay", which has been in use for at least half a century.
In German - my native language - it is the same for green, and I think also for the same reasons, we would for example say "Er ist noch grün hinter den Ohren" - he is still green behind the ears - to express someones inexperience. Whereas "blau" blue - and it was new to me that Russian differentiates between light blue and dark blue - expresses to be drunk in German "Er ist blau" - he is drunk. It is also used in "blau machen" - to take a day off without apparent reason of being sick nor having asked for permission ...
I have found an explanation - not sure if it is correct - that both stem from the process of dying clothes blue, which required large quantities of urine - and in order to get it the workers drank beer, so they got drunk. The day after dying the clothes they had a day of - remember, they were drunk ;-) (http://www.farbenundleben.de/kultur/blaumachen.htm unfortunately this page is in German only)
This is a very interesting topic! In Dutch, we say "hij ergert zich groen en geel", which means "he is annoyed green and yellow". These colours might suggest some kind of sickness and reminds me of the English expression "he is worried sick", but it is interesting to observe that one can get "sick due to irritation".
I'm German as well, so I don't have much to add. I see you also added "blau machen" in the comments.
I also thought of "schwarzfahren" (literally, "driving black"), which means to take public transportation without paying.
I just googled and found this link about english colour idioms: https://www.myenglishteacher.eu/blog/colour-idioms-list-and-their-meanings/
All this talking about old green men makes me get red ears "da bekomme ich rote Ohren" (German). Apparently this has a similar meaning in English https://idioms.thefreedictionary.com/one%27s+ears+are+red :D
There is no logical reason for the meanings of colour words when used in idomatic phrases. It is more a culture thing in most cases and that is the way with idioms.
Blue is sad in English but also it can be used to describe something that contains a lot of sexual content e.g. a blue film. In America A Blue book is one that contains the value of second hand cars.
This is an interesting post! :) I googled color idioms in other languages, and this old Duolingo post came up: https://www.duolingo.com/comment/7370354 They have a bunch of color idioms in German. It looks like Enlgish and German share a few like "a black sheep," "to see red," and "a green thumb." Although, German has "to be angry black" and "become green and blue from anger."
Speaking of "a black sheep", in Russian we use "белая ворона"="a white crow" to describe someone who really sticks out. It does not have the same negative connotation as Eglish "black sheep": it's just about being an oddity, there is no connotation of being disreputable.
Fun post! Thanks. Reminded me of a song from my youth.
"My Coloring Book"
For those who fancy coloring books
As certain people do
Here's a new one for you
A most unusual coloring book
The kind you never see
Crayons ready, very well
Begin to color me
These are the eyes that watched him
As he walked away
Color them gray (bleak, drained of joy)
This is the heart that thought
He would always be true
Color it blue (sad, downhearted)
These are the arms that held him
And touched him then lost him somehow
Color them empty now
These are the beads I wore
Until she came between
Color them green (envy, jealousy)
This is the room I sleep in
Walk in and weep in
Hide in that nobody sees
Color it lonely, please
This is the man
The one I depended upon
Color him gone...
This reminds me of the colourful language used in some poems. Even one of my favourites (My mistress eyes - Shakespeare) mentions white and red: https://m.poets.org/poetsorg/poem/my-mistress-eyes-are-nothing-sun-sonnet-130
Would imagine that the Japanese idiom where a blue butt=inexperience is probably a reference to the Mongolian blue spot, which a lot of Japanese babies are born with. It fades naturally as the child grows. Therefore still having one would mean that you are still young/inexperienced.