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Colour Idioms

The English language contains dozens of idioms involving colour.  The interpretation of these phrases or sayings is not so simple as to know the meaning of the individual words.  For example a "white lie" is not a lie that is the colour white.  The meaning of a  "white lie" is a small lie which is considered to be harmless.  This page defines common colour idioms.  

Click on a colour or scroll down.

Red Pink
Orange Brown
Yellow White
Green Grey
Blue Black


Caught red-handed

Caught in the act of committing a crime or a reprehensible act; or caught with substantive evidence of having committed such an act


Cut through the red tape

To bypass superfluous procedures


In the red

Losing money; to be in debt; not meeting quotas


Not worth a red cent

Insignificant value


Ones ears are red



Paint the town red

To go out, (on the town,) and party/have a good time


Red carpet treatment OR Rolling out the red carpet

Giving a high standard of treatment in regards to hospitality.  In some cases this involves a literal red carpet for the esteemed guest(s) to walk upon at the entrance of their destination.



An airplane flight whose duration is during the night; leaves late at night and arrive early in the morning


Red flag

A warning of danger, a sign to stop and not approach


Red Herring

Something that diverts attention away from what is important, a distraction, a false lead


Red hot

  • A material, usually metal so hot that it has turned red
  • Heated with anger, excitement, ardour, or enthusiasm
  • Very recent, fresh, new
  • A hot dog in a bun


Red in the face

  • Embarrassed or shamed such as to blush with embarrassment; “Is my face red?” is an extension of this idea which means one is so embarrassed they think that they must be blushing


  • To exert a great effort to try to achieve something until one is red in the face with exhaustion 


Red letter

A joyous event or day


Red tape

Time consuming procedures that seem needless and excessive


Seeing red

To be angry

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If anyone knows an orange idiom please e-mail it to me.

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Have a yellow streak

To be cowardly


Yellow bellied,

Coward, easily frightened


Yellow journalism

Journalism which uses sensationalism or false information to get peoples attention

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Get the green light

Receive approval to proceed with a task


Going green

Becoming environmentally friendly



  • Inexperienced, new


  • Environmentally friendly


Green around the gills

To look ill


Green-eyed monster




Inexperienced, novice, beginner


Greener pastures

Somewhere better or more favourable


Green Thumb

A proficiency at nurturing plants


Green with envy



The grass is always greener on the other side (of the fence)

A situation or place in the distance seems better than ones current circumstance, with an undertone that the greener grass is an illusion caused by the distance


Turning green OR turn green

To look like one is becoming ill

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Blue blood

Nobility, royalty


Blue collar worker

A class of workers that perform manual labour 


Blue comedy

Humour that is considered indecent, profane, or with taboo subject matter


Blue law

A law that enforces religious standards


Blue plate special

A meal offered at a reduced price


Blue ribbon

High quality, first place


Feeling Blue, the Blues

Sad, depressed


Once in a blue moon

An extremely rare occurrence


Out of the blue

An unexpected event

This well known phrase is also the name of multiple songs, albums, performers, films, and TV series


Talk a blue streak

To talk rapidly for a long time


True blue

Loyal, faithful, unwavering

Often used in terms of friendship


Until one is blue in the face

To do something repeatedly or for a long time without achieving the desired result.  The idea of talking for so long that the skin of ones face turns bluish due to lack of oxygen.

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Born to/in the purple

Member of a royal family or family of nobility; in order for the baby to be born in the purple the parents must be of high ranking or prominence at the time of the child’s birth


Purple prose, OR Purple patches, OR Purple passages

A criticism of writing that is considered to be extravagant or flowery; a passage that distracts from the flow of the piece

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In the pink

Originally meant to be at the peak or best of something; modernly refers to the peak of health or good health


Pink collar

A classification of low paid jobs that were filled by women before sexual equality


Pink elephant

A hallucination caused by intoxication; to see something that is only there in ones imagination


Pink slip

Employment termination notice


See the world though rose coloured glasses

Unduly favourable view of things, to see only the good things


Tickled pink

To be delighted or gratified; the idea of being so happy that one flushes pink

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Brown bagging

To bring a lunch from home to work instead of buying one during lunch break


Brown out

A reduction of electrical power usually caused by high consumption levels


Brown study

The state of mind of someone who is deep in thought


Browned off

Annoyed or fed up

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White Christmas

Snow on Christmas day


White elephant

A valuable possession that costs a great deal to maintain, the possession in of itself often has little usefulness and the owner can not be rid of it.


White feather

Sign of cowardice


White flag

A signal of surrender


White goods

  • household linens often made of white cloth or


  • or major household appliances which often have white exteriors


White hot

So hot that white light is emitted; zealous or intense feeling


White lie

A small lie which is considered to be harmless often told to maintain tactfulness; usually well-intentioned


White sale

A sale of household linens


Show the white feather

Act of cowardice


To Whitewash (something)

Cover-up errors and hide faults

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Grey area

An intermediate area, between two or more things and not fully belonging to either


Grey market

Genuine goods that are bought and sold at prices lower than a regulatory agency sets


Grey matter

Intelligence, brains


Grey mood

A gloomy mood

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Black and blue

Badly busied; the term stemming from the dark colouring of severe bruising



A negative vote often to keep someone from becoming a member of an organization


Black comedy, OR Black humour

Morbid or taboo subjects treated humorously while maintaining their seriousness


Black list

A list of entities that are being denied a service or privilege



The use of threatening to extort something desired by the extortionist


Black market

Illegal buying and selling of goods that may be scarce or rare and as such have high prices


Black out

A loss of consciousness


A loss of electrical power


Black tie event/affair

An event where the dress code is semi-formal and the men where bow ties with tuxedos or dinner jackets


Black Sheep

A member of a group, often in terms of a family, who is considered disreputable or deviates from standards maintained in the rest of the group


In black and white

In writing or print


In the black

Prosperous, fulfilling ones quota


The pot calling the kettle black

One person criticizing another for a behaviour that they themselves have also committed

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