List of Popular Phrases That Include Color

  • Out of the blue: unexpected
  • True blue: to be loyal or faithful
  • Once in a blue moon: an event that occurs infrequently See: Once in a Blue Moon
  • Blue ribbon: first place; to describe something as being of the highest quality
  • Blue blood: an aristocrat See: Blue Blood for Silver Spoons
  • Blue law: laws about morality issues
  • Blue comedy: jokes about socially taboo subjects
  • Blueprint: a detailed design of an object or idea
  • Blue plate special: a special priced meal at a restaurant
  • Bluestocking: a woman with strong scholarly interests
  • Feeling blue: to feel sad or unhappy
  • Get the green light: get approval to move ahead or proceed with a project or task See: Give The Green Light Meaning
  • Green corn: the young, tender ears of Indian corn
  • Green thumb (US) or Green fingers (UK): an unusual ability to make plants grow
  • Green room: a room (in a theater or studio) where performers can relax before or after appearances
  • Greenback: a legal-tender note issued by the United States government
  • Greener pastures: something newer or better (or perceived to be better), such as a new job
  • Green with envy: jealous or envious See: Green With Envy
  • Greenhorn: novice, trainee, beginner See: He Wasn’t All Greenhorn
  • Green around the gills: marked by a pale, sickly, or nauseated appearance
  • Turn green: to look pale and ill as if you are going to vomit
  • Going green: when someone or something makes changes to help protect the environment, or reduces waste or pollution
  • Yellowbellied: a cowardly manner
  • Yellow fever: a disease involving high fever and jaundice that is common in the tropics
  • Yellow jack: a flag flown on a vessel to show that it is under quarantine
  • Yellowdog contract: a contract which denies a person the right to join a worker’s union
  • Yellow journalism: newspaper articles thought to be sensationalized in order to sell more papers See: The Yellow Journalism Wars
  • Brown sugar: partially refined sugar
  • Brown bagging: to bring a homemade packed lunch to work
  • Brown out: a partial loss of electrical power See: Three Types of Brownout
  • Brownstone: a building made out of dark colored sandstone
  • In a brown study: describing someone as being in deep thought
  • Gray market: the business of buying or selling items that are priced below what has been regulated
  • Gray mood: an unhappy mood
  • Gray area: caught between two differing views
  • Red carpet treatment: giving privileged treatment to an important person
  • Caught red-handed: clearly guilty
  • Red in the face: to become embarrassed
  • Seeing red: to be angered
  • Red flag: a warning of danger
  • Not worth a red cent: having no value
  • Red letter day: a memorable, joyful day See: It’s a Red Letter Day
  • Red tape: excessive formalities in governmental process See: Cutting Through Red Tape
  • In the red: a term to describe an economic loss
  • Scarlet letter: a punitive mark of adultery that originated with the novel (1850) The Scarlet Letter by Nathaniel Hawthorne.
  • Tickled pink: to be happy
  • In the pink: in good health — this phrase hasn’t always had this meaning. See: Being in the Pink
  • Pinking shears: scissors with serrated blades
  • A pink elephant: term to describe hallucinations during intoxication
  • Pinkie finger: the smallest finger on the human hand
  • Pink slip: notice that employment is ending
  • Pink collar: refers to a particular class of jobs once only filled by women
  • Purple prose: an elaborately written poem or paragraph in literature
  • Purple heart: a medal awarded to a US soldier wounded in battle
  • Born to the purple: a person who is born into a noble or royal family
  • Lay it out in lavender: very cool, relaxed, and in control
  • White Christmas: the appearance of snow on Christmas day
  • White elephant: a possession that no longer holds value for its owner See: White Elephant: Revered or Revenge
  • White flag: the signal of a peaceful surrender
  • White goods: a description of household items, such as linens, towels, and appliances
  • White hot: extreme manner of intensity
  • White lie: a harmless untruth usually told out of politeness See: The Short, Sweet Truth About White Lies
  • White sauce: a sauce made from stock, butter, flour and seasonings
  • White feather: a symbol of cowardliness
  • Black comedy: creating comedy out of a tragic event or situation
  • Black coffee: coffee without milk
  • Black belt: the highest awarded belt in the martial arts
  • Blackball: voting against someone in a secret manner to prevent them from becoming a member of a club
  • Blackmail: to demand payment or action by means of a threat
  • Black sheep: a bad character in an otherwise respectable group
  • Black day: a bad day; often used before the name of a particular day to symbolize a tragic event, such as black Tuesday
  • Black Friday: the day after Thanksgiving See: Why The Friday After Thanksgiving Is Known As Black Friday

* Please note that while the terms above illustrate how black has historically been used in language, equating black to negativity is outmoded and using these terms could be hurtful. Like color, language is a powerful tool, so please always choose your colors and words wisely.

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About Kate Smith, Chief Color Maven, Sensational Color
An internationally recognized color expert, Kate Smith is sought out for her unmatched ability to use color to gain recognition and generate revenue for her clients. Smith also teaches other design professionals how to be industry leaders and a go-to resource for their expertise. Let Kate show you how to become a Color Pro

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  1. Appreciation to my father who informed me on the topic of this web site,
    this blog is genuinely remarkable.

  2. What an interesting list – thanks for sharing this with us, Kate! We forget how very many idioms include COLOR :)

    • Thanks, Kristie. It is nice to share with another color & design lover. So glad you enjoyed!

      I’m sure it is far from complete but it was great fun to put together what I have so far. Language and color are both fascinating topics so when they come together, I can easily get hooked. It is apparent how we started using some of these but there are other phrases I’d love to research to find out more about how they came into common usage.

  3. There were so many ‘colour’ phrases that I’d forgotten, and your site is an invaluable information source….thank you!
    Travel Safe!

  4. This was such a wonderful list. The only addition I was able to think of — and it was maybe mostly covered by “greener pastures” anyway — is “the grass is always greener on the other side.” Really, though, great read.

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