Colour My Words

As part of my research into colour and language I have been looking at the way colours are often evoked in speech and writing to add more depth and meaning to our words. This is particularly prevalent among English Idioms, An idiom is a phrase where the words mean something other than their literal meaning for example scarlet woman, in the pink and green-fingered. I have been collecting them with the intention of analysing them and possibly using them to produce an outcome later in the project.

So far I have grouped my list of idioms in accordance with the colour named mentioned and then organised the phrases to follow the colour spectrum, including no-spectral colours such as grey and brown at the end of the list. The list includes phrases for all the basic colour terms in English and a handful of others such as gold, silver, ivory and scarlet.

I have used my own knowledge plus a variety of sources from the internet to compile the list which still a working document. Ultimately I would like to produce a comprehensive list of phrases that employ a colour term in some way but it is difficult to be exhaustive because language is always evolving. This methodology has also created it own problems. Due to the international nature of the internet, lists of idioms included in other people’s web pages often contain many Americanisms. This has created difficulties, because despite the similarities between English and American culture and language there are still some significant differences culturally, with reference to colour. Americans refer to losing you job as ‘getting a pink slip’. This would be meaningless to most British citizens who would more commonly say ‘getting your P45’. Because of the cultural difference I will eventually remove any specifically American idioms from the list.

The other issue is that there are many phrases using colour terms, that have entered general usage but are not true idioms. These might come from rhymes, sayings, advertising. In order to produce and output from the list I must make the decision whether to only include idioms or to include all of the phrases to emphasise the variety of ways and the richness and depth to which colour names add to our language.

My working list can be found here: List of Idioms and Phrases, as it’s too long to be able to keep the post to a reasonable length. As my collection is ongoing if there are phrases including colour terms that I have missed please feel free to add them as a comment to this post.


About eleanorbydesign

Graduate of MA Graphic Design at London College of Communication

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