Saturday, November 3, 2012

Colours of the Rainbow

Colour adds pizzazz to our world which would fade into bleakness…
                                if we could not see the spring’s early tree foliage,
                                if we could not see the daffodils as they poke through the last snows,
                                if we could not see the lilacs of May,
                                if we could not see the first rosebud,
                                if we could not see the rippling waters of rivers and lakes,
                                if we could not see the autumn leaves of deciduous trees,
                                if we could not see the Christmas lights and holly,
                                if we could not see the frosty branches & sparkling snowflakes.

We decorate our homes in various hues and textures.
Our automobiles would be “boring” if only in black, gray or brown.
We wear clothing colours that compliment our skin tones, hair and eyes.
Our woodlands and treed urban areas would be bland without colourful birds.
We women use colours in our cosmetics, nail polish and hair tints.
Even our fruits and vegetables add table appeal,
                                               inviting us to savour their luscious goodness.

The Colours of the Rainbow present another venue, that of…

Associated Idioms

The six colours of the spectrum have contributed significantly
to expressions and turns of phase that are themselves
often quite colourful.  Here's a sampling
of idioms employing the words for colours.

RED:  Because of the association of the colour red with danger and deficits, most
idioms that include the word red...for example “in the red” (meaning 'in debt');
red tape” (referring to bureaucratic complications) and “seeing red” (being so
angry that one's vision is blurred)...all have negative associations.

However, they overshadow a few positive ones:  paint the town red” (enjoying
oneself dining and drinking); “a red letter day” (an occasion for celebration) and
“red carpet treatment” or “roll out the red carpet” (referring to paying special
attention to someone, based on the colour of carpeting usually seen at the
entrance to a gala event for celebrities or VIPs).

A “red herring” is a deliberate diversion;  a “red-eye flight” is a late-night
airplane trip (from bloodshot eyes and tired passengers) and to have a
red face” or to go “beet red” is to be embarrassed.

ORANGE:  Among the colours of the rainbow, orange is curiously absent.
Although it is a bright, cheerful colour, often found in nature, the only common
expression that uses the word orange employs the plural form referring to the
fruit of that name....”apples and oranges”, meaning unrelated subjects or issues
to emphasize irrelevance.

YELLOW:  The few idioms incorporating the word  yellow have negative
connotations.  To have a “yellow belly” or a “yellow streak down one's back”
(the reasons for the choice of locations is obscure) is to be a coward and
“yellow journalism” based on an early comic strip character named the
“Yellow Kid”, is that which is sensational and/or biased.

GREEN:  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 colour 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 colour is
associated with money and wealth.

BLUE:  Because it is the colour of the sky, blue is associated with idioms such as
“out of the blue”  and “out of a clear blue sky” and “like a bolt from the blue”
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 labourers, 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 an 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 favoured 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 colour 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 colour-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 colour purple, because materials for dying fabric in that colour 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.

Further to the foregoing is the colour commentator (colour analyst) who
assists the "play-by-play" sports announcer...often filling in any time when play
is not in progress.  The colour commentator provides expert analysis and
background information...such as statistics, strategy and information about
other teams and athletes related to the sport being broadcast. These colour 
commentators are often former athletes or coaches.

“Words of Wisdom”

As the Indians say,
“When anything strengthens
a bond of friendship,
the friends have walked
in the “shadow of a rainbow”.

Merle Baird-Kerr...written October 23, 2012
Comments appreciated...scroll down...may sign in as “anonymous”


  1. Merle,
    What a Wonderful Read about Colours and Rainbows today ! Absolutely outstanding... your always Teaching us something special about Life!
    It also calls to mind two of my favorite songs, Somewhere, over the Rainbow... and The Rainbow Connection ! What an absolutely Feel Good Blog you have created for us all today ! Bless You !

    Sherrie xo

  2. Those are illustrious words, my Dear Friend...
    how wonderful! And I even stopped to consider
    whether to even write this...finally realizing,
    without a doubt, that "colour" is such a strong
    ingredient in our every-day-living!