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The meaning of colours

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Ogrim
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 Message 1 of 16
12 October 2012 at 5:38pm | IP Logged 
I find it interesting how colours are used in idiomatic expressions to convey different meanings. In English there are many of them, e.g. feel blue, see red, be browned off, green with envy, yellow-bellied etc.

Spanish also has some interesting expressions, where the same colour can indicate quite different things:
Viejo verde lit. "old green" (old man who likes young women)
Película verde lit. "green film" (film with erotic content)
Poner verde a alguien. lit. "put green on someone"(talk badly about someone)
Estar verde. lit. "be green" (being a beginner)
Other expressions: “ponerse morado” lit. "become violet" – eat a lot of good food; estar negro " be black" – be in a bad mood; quedarse en blanco "stay in white" – not remember anything; prensa amarailla "yellow press" – tabloid press.

Then of course you have the use of colour to express political affiliation, which I believe is quite standardised, at least in Europe: Red is leftwing and blue is rightwing (interestingly enough, in the US the Republicans are red and the Democrats blue), green is ecologists and yellow/orange is liberal (in the European meaning of the term).

I am wondering whether this use of colours is a universal phenomenon and you find that type of expressions in languages like e.g. Mandarin, Japanese, Korean, Arabic or Swahili?

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Chung
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 Message 2 of 16
12 October 2012 at 5:53pm | IP Logged 
Off the top of my head:

Finnish: mustasukkainen ~ "[with] black sock / black-socked" = "jealous" (apparently an erroneous calque of Swedish svartsjuk(a) "black sickness" ~ "jealous")

You may find this pamphlet interesting (especially "Appendix 1. Comparative Analysis of Color-related Expressions in Western European Languages"

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Serpent
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 Message 3 of 16
12 October 2012 at 6:05pm | IP Logged 
And in Russian "blue stocking" means being old-fashioned and boring :D
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sillygoose1
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 Message 4 of 16
12 October 2012 at 6:33pm | IP Logged 
Read The Great Gatsby if you want the meaning of colors in an American sense.
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Levi
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 Message 5 of 16
12 October 2012 at 8:01pm | IP Logged 
In Chinese, wearing a "green hat" (绿帽子 lǜmàozi) means your wife is cheating on you. So if you're taking a trip to China, leave your green hat at home.
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Ari
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 Message 6 of 16
12 October 2012 at 9:05pm | IP Logged 
Canto has most of the stuff Mando has, so a green hat is a cuckold, yellow means pornographic, red means popular (though I think this is more common in Mando) and white means doing something in vain (so "to go white" means to go in vain) or for free ("to eat white" means to eat without paying). Others are as far as I know particular to Canto, though many of them are probably shared with other sinitic languages:

* If someone is very "black", it means they're unlucky, either by having bad things happen to themselves or to people they associate with.
* To 念口黃, "recite your mouth yellow" means to recite something without understanding its meaning.
* 捉黃腳雞, "to catch the yellow-foot chicken" means to trick someone into having sex and then blackmail him for money. Apparently it's related to an old way of catching the rooster without being attacked by the hens, and it's probably not a coincidence that "chicken" is Canto slang for "prostitute".
* A quack doctor can be called a 黃錄醫生, "yellow green doctor".
* 青靚白淨, "green, pretty, white, clean" means to be good-looking.

Dunno about any good expressions for the other colors. Ok, I'm not sure if it counts, but 白虎 literally means "white tiger" and is awesome slang for a woman with no pubic hair, though that one is also shared with Mandarin.
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PillowRock
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 Message 7 of 16
13 October 2012 at 1:50am | IP Logged 
A comment and a few additions for American English:

Ogrim wrote:
interestingly enough, in the US the Republicans are red and the Democrats blue

In my experience, mostly in the phrases "red state" and "blue state", rather than a universal identification between those colors and political parties. The sentence "He is a Red" would still mean communist, not Republican.


Ogrim wrote:
Película verde lit. "green film" (film with erotic content)

In English that would a "blue film". Also, a stand-up comic who is "working blue" is performing an act that includes a lot of sexual references and / or vulgar language.


Ogrim wrote:
Estar verde. lit. "be green" (being a beginner)
prensa amarailla "yellow press" – tabloid press.

These two work basically the same way in English. Someone who is "green" is inexperienced at whatever activity or skill you're talking about. However, I don't notice "yellow press" much in more recent sources, so maybe it is becoming an archaic usage.


Also, a person can be "black hearted" if they are malicious or evil.

Sometimes people are referred to by the color of the uniform they wear. Police are sometimes collectively referred to as "blues" and baseball umpires are fairly often addressed or referred to as "blue".
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montmorency
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 Message 8 of 16
13 October 2012 at 2:16am | IP Logged 
Serpent wrote:
And in Russian "blue stocking" means being old-fashioned and boring :D


In English it is an old usage that refers to an academic woman, but I didn't realise how far back it went:

Bluestocking




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