Brighten up your day with these colourful idioms

Coloured tubes to portray colour idiomsAfter visiting an eye-popping Op Art exhibition on the weekend, I felt inspired to research idioms about colours, shapes and patterns.

In fact, I’m surprised I haven’t covered them already as part of my series!

It turns out there are so many that I’m going to split them into two posts – starting with colour idioms.

As per usual, I’ve added in some links for those who like to learn about the etymology of the more unusual phrases.

Idioms about colours in general

To nail one’s colours to the mast = to defiantly display one’s opinions or beliefs

To sail under false colours = to deliberately hide one’s identity or opinion

To show one’s true colours = to make one’s true opinion known; to show one’s real self (after being deliberately misleading)

Idioms featuring the colour blue

Baby blues = Feelings of depression or anxiety, experienced by some mothers following childbirth

Between the devil and the deep blue sea = trapped between two equally difficult sets of circumstances

Blue-blooded = born into a royal or aristocratic family

Blue-eyed boy = favourite of someone in authority

Bluestocking = erudite/literary woman

Bolt from/out of the blue = totally unexpected, like a bolt of lightning from a clear blue sky

Once in a blue moon = very rarely

To do something until one is blue in the face = to persist in trying one’s hardest at an activity but without success

To shout/scream/cry blue murder = to shout aloud in alarm or distress

Idioms about the colour red

Red as a beetroot = red-faced, usually through embarrassment

Red herring = deliberate misleading and diverting of attention from the real issue

Red-letter day = day to celebrate, day of special significance

Red tape = excessive bureaucracy/form-filling

To be caught red-handed = to be caught in the act of committing a misdemeanour, with the evidence for all to see

To be in the red = to be in debt, overdrawn, losing money

To paint the town red = to go out on a spree, indulge in excessive revelry

To see red = to suddenly become very angry, lose control

To wave a red rag to a bull = to deliberately provoke in order to bring about an adverse reaction

Miscellaneous colour idioms

Born in the purple = born into a reigning family or privileged class

Green-eyed monster = jealousy, envy

Grey area = area of law etc. that doesn’t fall into any predefined category

Shrinking violetIn the pink = in extremely good health and spirits

Purple patch = overly elaborate or effusive piece of writing; period of notable success or good luck

Shrinking violet = shy or modest person

Tickled pink = delighted

To give/get the green light = to allow/be allowed to proceed

Black and white idioms

Black mark (against someone) = showing dislike or disapproval of something that someone has done

Black sheep of the family = disreputable or disgraced member of a family

Black spot = place notorious for something, e.g. accidents or crime

In black and white = in writing or in print (cf. word of mouth)

To be in someone’s black book(s) = to be out of favour with someone, be in disgrace

To be in the black = to be in credit, solvent

White elephant = unwanted object, creating more trouble than it is worth

White lie = harmless or trivial lie, usually to avoid hurting someone’s feelings

Phew, who’d have thought there’d be quite so many colour idioms and phrases? And this isn’t even all of them! You can find more here.

If you enjoyed this collection, do keep an eye out for part 2 when I’ll be turning my attention to shapes and patterns…

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4 comments on “Brighten up your day with these colourful idioms
  1. Tania says:

    Brilliant, as per usual 🙂 It’s always a sheer delight to read your blogs. For eyes, heart, and brain (love Oxford comma). And for ears, I’m certain. Looking forward to and keeping an eye out for part 2. Your English is so sophisticated. Connoisseurs do appreciate. Balsam for English lovers.
    May I add “with flying colours” (triumphally)?

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