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Talking Colors

Almost all words do have color and nothing is more pleasant than to utter a pink word and see someone’s eyes light up and know it is a pink word for him or her too.

Gladys Taber

Color Idioms


to be colorless: to lack personality, to be boring

Nothing he said stands out in my memory. I’m afraid he’s a dull, colorless man.

to be off color: to be not quite at one’s best, to feel queasy or slightly ill

She’s a little off color today because she was up very late last night and had too much to drink!

to give/lend color to: to make (an account, story, explanation, etc.) more credible or more believable

The broken window on the ground floor lent color to her story that her house had been burgled.

to see someone in his true colors: to understand someone’s true character, often for the first time

As soon as he made a fuss about returning her money, I saw him in his true colors.

with flying colors: with great success, with distinction

We were all expecting him to fail, but he passed with flying colors.

to paint in bright/dark colors: to describe something in a flattering or unflattering way

My brother pretended he was doing well financially and painted his life there in the brightest colors.

horse of a different color: something totally separate and different

I know that our boss would like to discuss that issue now but it is a horse of a different color and we should discuss it at another time.


black and white: think of everything or judge everything as either good or bad

He tries to see everything in black and white although he knows this is impossible.

black sheep (of the family): a person who is a disgrace or embarrassment to a family or group

The man is the black sheep in his family and is the only member who has not had a successful career and life.

in the black: successful or profitable

The company has been in the black since they began to adopt many new ideas to cut costs.


to appear/happen out of the blue: 1. to arrive unexpectedly, usually after a long absence. 2. to happen very suddenly and unexpectedly

1. My brother suddenly appeared out of the blue yesterday. We hadn’t seen him for years.

2. I was driving home when out of the blue a deer jumped out in front of my car. I braked just in time to avoid it. We were both very lucky not to be hurt.

to blue pencil something: to censor something

Reports on the mistreatment of the political prisoners were blue pencilled by the authorities.

to look/feel blue: to look / feel depressed or discontented.

Things are looking blue for Tom these days. His wife has left him.

once in a blue moon: to occur extremely rarely or only once in a life-time

My brother only rings home once in a blue moon. I wish he would ring our parents more often.


to be browned off: to be bored, annoyed at something

I’m browned off with this place. There is nothing to do here.


to be green: inexperienced, immature

He is rather green and doesn’t have enough experience to drive the large piece of machinery yet.

green with envy: full of envy, very jealous

I was green with envy when I heard that she would be going to London for a month while I had to stay and work.

green thumb: a talent for gardening, ability to make things grow

She has a green thumb and is able to grow one of the best gardens in our neighbourhood.


tickled pink: be very pleased, thrilled, delighted

She was tickled pink that you made the effort to go and visit her when you were in town.

see pink elephants: to see things which are not really there because they are only in your imagination

The man was seeing pink elephants according to those who listened to his story.


to be in the red: to have an overdraft, to be in debt

I am overdrawn again. I hate being in the red.

to catch someone red-handed: to catch someone in the act of committing a crime, usually a theft

The manager caught the new employee red-handed taking money out of the box.

to see red: to react with uncontrollable rage against someone or something

John saw red when he saw his girlfriend laughing with another guy.

red-eye: an airplane flight that leaves late at night and arrives early in the morning

We caught the red-eye flight last night and we are very tired today.

red herring: an unimportant matter that draws attention away from the main subject

Talking about the other issue was a red herring and did not do anything to deal with today’s problem.

red tape: bureaucratic delay, excessive attention to rules and regulations, often resulting in injustice to the ordinary citizen

I want to start a new business but the red tape involved is very frustrating.

paint the town red: go out and party and have a good time

When my cousin came to visit us we decided to go out and paint the town red.

a redneck: an ignorant, insensitive person

Our new co-worker is a real redneck. He doesn’t seem to know anything about life.


as white as a sheet: in a state of great fear

You look like you’ve just seen a ghost. Your face is as white as a sheet.

white elephant: a useless possession

The new stereo that he bought is a white elephant and he doesn’t need it at all.

white as a ghost: very pale because of fear, shock, illness, etc.

My sister became white as a ghost when she saw the man at the window.

a white lie: a harmless lie (told to be polite or to do something not seriously wrong)

I told my boss a white lie and said that I was sick yesterday when actually I wasn’t.

a white-collar worker: a professional or office worker who wears a shirt with a white collar

The recession has hit factory workers (blue-collar workers) much harder than white-collar workers.


yellow-bellied: extremely timid, cowardly

He is a yellow-bellied coward and never is willing to fight for what is right.

a yellow streak: cowardice in character

He has a yellow streak running down his back and is not a good person to expect to support you when things become difficult.

Color Words

It is probably useless to prove that vocabulary is an important part of language and hence its importance for any student of English be it EAP, EFL, or ESP. Our work deals with words and expressions denominating colors, therefore the term color words is used. Due to their nature knowledge of such words and some stores to look for them are essential for advertising, art students and other. One of ESP branches we are concerned with is English for teachers, and future teachers should be forearmed with colorful, strong and tender words that color words definitely are. Nowadays more and more people get access to different types of texts written in English. Understanding of fiction of different types, advertisements, names of food-stuffs and other goods, appearing both in typographic print and in the Internet become a professional and everyday need of more and more people.

While reading a text in English readers face a certain number of problems. One of such problems is to understand and to translation/interpret color words. To interpret here means not only to translate orally, but to reveal the underlying meaning. Color words are freely used by the authors to describe different things, such as features of the characters faces, clothes, jewellery, make-up, cars, landscapes and seascape, pieces of art etc. Look at the sky in Blue Eys by T.Hardy: the sky gray of the purest melancholy; a lemon-hued expanse of western sky; the pale glow of the sky; it was a familiar September sunset, dark-blue fragments of cloud upon an orange-yellow sky; a violet sky; rich indigo hue of a midnight sky; a rosy sky; in a sky of ashen hue.

In eager wish to express their thoughts and ideas most precisely, authors hunt for more suitable and most unusual words.

W. Somerset Maugham in Theatre describing Julia’s bedroom uses Nattier blue, the color that connects Julia with the world of arts and artists, hints at her French origin and reveals her bright vivid nature.

Oscar Wilde in Portrait of Dorian Gray wishing to express the brightness of the June day and of Dorian’s beauty, uses rose, pink, vermilion, purple, lilac, yellow, green and coal-black. He paints the portraits of his characters with ivory, scarlet, rose-red, rose-white, white and olive; he finds pink and scarlet on their lips, and blue, black, amethyst in their eyes. Sometimes color words become main characteristics of a famous character, we find such characters in Grimm’s Fairy Tales: Little Red Riding-Hood, Bluebeard, Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs, Goldilocks and the Three Bears. And the Fairy with blue hair proves it.

Colors are widely used to describe clothes. J.K.Rowling clothes her superficial character Gilderoy Lockhart in robes in forget-me-not-blue, aquamarine, turquoise, deep plum, jade-green, lilac and midnight blue, demonstrating his love for outstanding looks. Her characters also wear green, purple and black robes. To give more examples of such words in clothes, let’s recall of Robin Hood and his merry men, clad in Lincoln green, Black Cloak and Little Red Riding Hood.

Color and words of color became the moving power of stories. In Rouge we learn about a servant, whose deadly paleness so much disturbed her mistress, that the latter ordered the poor maid put some rouge on her cheeks. The color words used to subscribe the shades of skin and complexion are really diverse. Characters blush, grow red, go scarlet and pink, glow and even get black eyes! A yellow face was not only the title but also the starter of a story by A.C.Doyle.

The descriptions of pieces of art require accuracy as well as poetical way of thinking. Such descriptions are generously used by different authors Maugham (The Moon and the Sixpence), Wilde (Picture of Dorian Gray), Priestly (Jenny Willers) and many more.

The wide range of color words causes a certain difficulty in finding them in dictionaries and glossaries. Most of them can be found in some dictionaries, but not all. We should also bear in mind that writers and advertisement designers invent their own color words, Some of them can be understood easily (forget-me-not-blue, Nattier blue, robin’s egg blue). Some are really difficult to understand or translate. What color are such nail varnish colors: Rambling Rose, Country Rose, Porcelain Pink or In the Pink?

Our list of color words and their explanations in plain English is created to answer these and alike questions. Those reading different types of texts, translating them into/from English have a useful helper now. It consists of two parts.

The first is Index where color words are listed alphabetically. Each word is matched with the words naming the colors of rainbow for easy finding and understanding.

The second part is divided into sections entitled by the color words, naming the general colors. There you can find shades of yellow, red, and more colors.

This work can be of use for students and teachers of English, translators, interpreters and all those who are interested in the English language and its peculiarities.

Vitali Ashkinazi, Elena Severinova, Saint Petersburg, Russia

Everything that you can see in the world around you presents itself to your eyes only as an arrangement of patches of different colors.

John Ruskin

Shades of Blue

aqua – a light bluish green to light greenish blue

aquamarine – a pale blue to light greenish blue

azure – a light purplish blue; (heraldry) the colour blue

baby blue – a very light to very pale greenish or purplish blue

bice blue – a moderate blue

blue-black – a black colour with a tinge of blue; very dark blue

Cambridge blue (Brit.) – a pale blue

cerulean – azure; sky-blue

clair de lune – the colour of a pale, greyish-blue glaze applied to various kinds of Chinese porcelain

cobalt blue – a moderate to deep vivid blue or strong greenish blue

cornflower – a vivid blue

cyan – a greenish blue, considered a primary colour in printing and photography

cyanic – of a blue or bluish hue

electric blue – a steely or brilliant light blue

faience – a moderate to strong greenish blue

glaucous – of a dull greyish-green or blue colour

gunmetal – (in full gunmetal grey, gunmetal blue) a dull bluish-grey colour

hyacinth – a deep purplish blue to vivid violet

ice blue – a very pale blue

indigo – a dark blue to greyish purple blue

lavender – a pale blue colour with a trace of mauve

Mazarine – a very dark blue

midnight blue – a very dark blue

Nattier blue – a soft shade of blue [much used by J. M. Nattier, French painter d. 1766]

navy blue – a dark greyish blue

Nile blue – a light greenish blue

Oxford blue – a dark blue, sometimes with a purple tinge, of this colour

peacockn. the lustrous greenish blue of a peacock’s neck. adj. (hyphenated when attrib.) of this colour

peacock blue – a moderate to dark or strong greenish blue

perse – dark greyish blue or purple

powder blue – a moderate to pale blue or purplish blue

Prussian blue – a moderate to strong blue or deep greenish blue

robin’s-egg blue – a pale bluish green to greenish or greyish blue

royal blue – a deep to strong blue

sapphire – the blue colour of a gem sapphire

saxe blue – a lightish blue colour with a greyish tinge

sky blue – a light to pale blue, from a light greenish to light purplish blue

slate blue – a greyish blue to dark bluish grey

smoke – a pale to greyish blue to bluish or dark grey

steel blue – a medium greyish blue

teal – a moderate or dark bluish green to greenish blue

turquoise – a light to brilliant bluish green

ultramarine – a vivid or strong blue to purplish blue

venetian blue – a strong blue to greenish blue

Wedgwood – a. ceramic ware made by J. Wedgwood; b. the characteristic blue colour of this stoneware