The English language is not only full of interesting words and constructions but also combinations of words that together acquire new meanings. Idioms are an essential part of everyday English, making the language more expressive.
In this article, we learn about idioms based on colors that can help “add color” to your English. Use them correctly in your conversation and you will stand to impress!
1. White lie
A white lie is a small, harmless, or innocent lie that is told to someone to prevent them from being hurt by the truth. This is often done with good intentions or to be polite. This comes from the historical idea that white represents goodness and black represents darkness or evil. From this idea we also get “black lie” which is a lie told for selfish or evil reasons.
«Even though I thought Sarah’s favourite new dress was really old-fashioned, I had to tell her a little white lie and say it really suited her.»
2. Gray area
How often have you found yourself in situations when it is not clear what you should do? This is the meaning of the “gray area” idiom. If you find yourself in a condition where you have a lack of information or do not know the rules of action, you are in a gray area. In British English, “gray” is written “grey”.
“Physician-assisted suicide is a gray area for many societies deciding between the lifesaving responsibilities of physicians and the patient’s right to choose.”
3. Feel blue
To feel blue is to feel sad, gloomy, and apathetic. It is sometimes said that this expression comes from an old sea custom, according to which if a ship lost its captain or crew member during its voyage, it must either raise blue flags or draw a blue stripe on the entire hull when returning to its homeport.
“Even though I love my job, I cannot help feeling a little blue on Mondays.”
4. Red tape
Even today, legal documents are sometimes tied up with ribbon (legal tape).
Red tape means bureaucracy, and not in a good way! This is used to refer to rules which are excessive, rigid and unnecessary, and which inhibit actions and results. It is believed that this idiom dates back to the 16th century, when European monarchs began using red ribbons to tie up administrative files that required the most urgent consideration. Despite the possible usefulness of this practice in the past, over time the expression “red tape” acquired a negative connotation.
«After years of so-called ‘school reform’, teachers now spend more time dealing with red tape rather than teaching children.»
5. Green thumb (or green fingers)
Green thumb или green fingers?
To have a green thumb (or green fingers) is to have a talent for growing plants. This expressions came about because people who spend a lot of time with flowerpots often get their thumbs (and fingers) green from algae growing on the pots. It is more common for “green thumb” to be used in the US, and “green fingers” in the UK.
“His green thumb helped the whole family during the war as they survived on homegrown food when there was hunger around.”
6. Tickled pink
This idiom means to be very pleased or very happy. It refers to the pink face that one gets when tickled to laughter..
“The girl was tickled pink when she received the autograph of her favorite singer”
7. Black sheep (of the family)
A black sheep or black sheep of the family is a person who is different from everyone else in the group. This phrase has negative connotations and often refers to someone who brings shame on the group or the family. It is similar to the usage of “white crow” in Russian. Even though domesticated sheep are mostly white, they sometimes produce the occasional black sheep. This is undesirable as black wool is unprofitable for the farmer. In the past, the black sheep was even seen as a sign of the devil.
“The president was ashamed of his oldest son, the black sheep of the family who was a lazy alcoholic, and tried to keep him out of the public eye.”
8. Once in a blue moon
Once in a blue moon means rarely. The moon can appear blue when certain wavelengths of moonlight are scattered due to atmospheric particles that are of the right size. This happened in 1883 when the Indonesian volcano Krakatoa erupted, sending clouds of ash into the atmosphere, and causing a blue moon to be seen all over the world for many nights.
It is often said that a “blue moon” used to mean the second full moon in a month. In reality, this was a popularized misunderstanding of the true origin of the phrase which referred to the third of four full moons (rather than the usual three) in a season.
“Sally only eats fast food once in a blue moon because she is really health-conscious.”
9. White elephant
People need to shop wisely, otherwise, they run the risk of buying a white elephant – which means an expensive but useless thing that cannot be easily disposed of. The phrase is often used by the media to criticise prestigious but expensive government projects and buildings.
The history of “white elephant” goes back to Southeast Asia, where albino elephants were considered sacred. The monarchs would honor someone special by giving them a white elephant. They required a special diet and so were expensive to maintain. As they were considered sacred, there were laws preventing them being used for labor. And as they were a gift from the monarch, they could not be gotten rid of. As such, the white elephants became an unintended curse for the owner.
“To win votes, the government built an astronomically expensive bridge connecting a small island to the city. But it is a white elephant serving just 500 cars daily, even though it has the capacity for more than 30 thousand.”
10. With flying colors
To do something with flying colors is to do it very successfully. This has a nautical origin where ships would return from a victorious battle with colored flags (called “colors”) flying from the mast.
“She passed the exam with flying colors and gained entry to her university of choice.»
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