Colours and emotions in languages

Dear readers and followers,

Waiting for my video about Italian vocabulary this weekend, I am here with this post about the vision of colours in languages. We know that colours are important, they are part of how we perceive things. That is why brands research the market and invest so much when choosing the colour of their logo. But that is not all, everything we experience, also the food, reaches our eyes first, and an inviting appearance is important when serving food, or when selling any product.

Colours influence our choices, but what are the ideas associated to them in some of the languages we speak? Are they similar or do they depend on the culture of each country? Let’s see some examples.

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Red is often associated with love and passion, with suffering, or with fury. All these things are in some way related to blood: our heart and blood are red, hence the love, but also the suffering and martyrdom; also, when we are angry there is an increase in blood pressure and our face becomes red with fury. In English we say “to see red” because, supposedly, the bull attacks when he sees the red cloak, but is actually not true. First of all, bulls are colour blind, and what makes them angry (apart from all the hitting him with spears and swords, which would be enough anyway) is the moving of the cape, which is red only in the end. In Italian, similarly, we can say that we are red with rage: essere rossi di rabbia.

Green is used for different things: ecology, money, experience, envy, etc. In English, apart from a person interested in the environment, a green person is someone with no experience or someone who is jealous. In Italian, green, as red, is used for indicating rage, and we say essere verde dalla rabbia, to be green with anger. Rage and jealousy are supposed to be green probably because they were thought to originate from the liver, and the bile is green. In Italian, though, other meanings are possible: to be on green, essere al verde, is to have no money; there are two possible explanations for that: the first one says that, although green is the colour of money, it is also the colour of the tables of casinos, and when one loses all the money, one only sees the green cloth; according to the second theory, poor people could not buy too many candles and had to use them until the bottom, which was marked in green. To conclude, in Spanish an man is called an old green, un viejo verde, when he is a pervert, especially with young girls.

Yellow is another colour used to symbolise jealousy because, as it is the case with the green, too much bile production makes our skin yellowish. Yellow being the colour of jealousy is the reason why it is said that it is not nice to give yellow roses. In Italy, though, yellow is also the colour of mystery, and mystery books and films are called libri e film gialli, yellow books and films. The reason for that is the colour of the cover the editor Mondadori chose for the first series of mystery books. From that comes also the sad but understandable translation of Murder, she wrote as La signora in giallo, the lady in yellow.

White symbolises purity and birth, while black is the colour of mourning and death. For this reason, even if black is elegant, the women in the royal family, and Queen Elizabeth in particular, never wear black apart from when they mourn. In Japan, on the contrary, white is the colour of grief. In English, to be in black means to be in credit, and from there the name of Black Friday for the day after Thanksgiving, because on that day the shops start gaining money. Generally, though, black is associated with negativity, and if in Italian we talk of a black Friday, un venerdì nero, we mean a negative day for the stock market.

Purple, my favourite colour, is believed to bring bad luck in theatres, and it is avoided on stage. It is also the colour English uses to express rage, as in to be purple with rage.

Blue is often also associated with honesty, so a blue eyed person is one who can do no wrong, but in English it is also the colour of a film with explicit sexual content, while that in Italian, mainly in the case of a porn film, is a red light one, un film a luci rosse. While in Italian, blue is often associated with calm, in English to be blue is also to be sad.

Do you have more sayings with colours, or do you know different ideas expressed by them in your mother tongue? Feel free to share them with us.

Until next and… keep being naughty, Knotty surely will!!!

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1 Comment

  1. Raquel Madrid

     /  15/09/2015

    Más vale tarde que nunca….
    In Spanish “essere al verde” can be translated as “estar sin blanca”; to be without white. “Blanca” was a not very valuable coin in times of Felipe II, so if you had any of them, you must have been really poor!

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