What Colors Mean

We live in a colorful world. In many countries, colors represent various holidays; they are also used to express feelings and enliven language. Find your favorite color and see what it means around the world.

Red


Red Ribbon Wrapped Around an Orange Race Car

For the ancient Romans, a red flag was a signal for battle.

Because of its visibility, stop signs, stoplights, brake lights, and fire equipment are all painted red.

The ancient Egyptians considered themselves a red race and painted their bodies with red dye for emphasis.

In Russia, red means beautiful. The Bolsheviks used a red flag as their symbol when they overthrew the tsar in 1917. That is how red became the color of communism.

In India, red is the symbol for a soldier.

In South Africa, red is the color of mourning.

It's considered good luck to tie a red bow on a new car.

In China, red is the color of good luck and is used as a holiday and wedding color. Chinese babies are given their names at a red-egg ceremony.

Superstitious people think red frightens the devil.

A “red-letter day” is one of special importance and good fortune.

In Greece, eggs are dyed red for good luck at Easter time.

To “paint the town red” is to celebrate.

Red is the color most commonly found in national flags.

In the English War of the Roses, red was the color of the House of Lancaster, which defeated the House of York, symbolized by the color white.

The “Redshirts” were the soldiers of the Italian leader Garibaldi, who unified modern Italy in the nineteenth century.

To “see red” is to be angry.

A “red herring” is a distraction, something that takes attention away from the real issue.

A “red eye” is an overnight airplane flight.

If a business is “in the red,” it is losing money.

Green


Green Traffic Light

Only one national flag is a solid color: the green flag of Libya.

Ancient Egyptians colored the floors of their temples green.

In ancient Greece, green symbolized victory.

In the highlands of Scotland, people wore green as a mark of honor.

Green is the national color of Ireland.

A “greenback” is slang for a U.S. dollar bill.

Green means “go.” When “all systems are green,” it means everything is in order.

The green room of a concert hall or theater is where performers relax before going onstage.

The “green-eyed monster” is jealousy.

A greenhorn is a newcomer or unsophisticated person.

Green is youthful.

Being “green around the gills” is looking pale and sickly.

Green with envy” means full of envy or jealousy.

A person with a “green thumb” is good at making plants grow.

A green, or common, is a town park.

Green is a healing color, the color of nature.

Blue


Blue First Place Ribbon

In ancient Rome, public servants wore blue. Today, police and other public servants wear blue.

In Iran, blue is the color of mourning.

Blue was used as protection against witches, who supposedly dislike the color.

If you are “true blue,” you are loyal and faithful.

Blue stands for love, which is why a bride carries or wears something blue on her wedding day.

A room painted blue is said to be relaxing.

“Feeling blue” is feeling sad. “Blue devils” are feelings of depression.

Something “out of the blue” is from an unknown source at an unexpected time.

A bluebook is a list of socially prominent people.

The first prize gets a blue ribbon.

A blue blood is a person of noble descent. This is probably from the blue veins of the fair-complexioned aristocrats who first used this term.

“Into the blue” means into the unknown.

A “bluenose” is a strict, puritanical person.

A “bluestocking” used to be a scholarly or highly knowledgeable woman.

The pharaohs of ancient Egypt wore blue for protection against evil.

The “blues” is a style of music derived from southern African-American secular songs. It influenced the development of rock, R&B, and country music.

Blue laws” are used to enforce moral standards.

A blue ribbon panel is a group of especially qualified people.

Purple, Violet


Purple Chair

The Egyptian queen Cleopatra loved purple. To obtain one ounce of Tyrian purple dye, she had her servants soak 20,000 Purpura snails for 10 days.

In Thailand, purple is worn by a widow mourning her husband's death.

A “purple heart” is a U.S. military decoration for soldiers wounded or killed in battle.

Purple is a royal color.

Purple robes are an emblem of authority and rank.

Purple speech” is profane talk.

Purple prose” is writing that is full of exaggerated literary effects and ornamentation.

Leonardo da Vinci believed that the power of meditation increases 10 times when done in a purple light, as in the purple light of stained glass.

Purple in a child's room is said to help develop the imagination according to color theory.

Richard Wagner composed his operas in a room with shades of violet, his color of inspiration.

Yellow


Yellow Ribbon Tied Around Tree

In Egypt and Burma, yellow signifies mourning.

In Spain, executioners once wore yellow.

In India, yellow is the symbol for a merchant or farmer.

In tenth-century France, the doors of traitors and criminals were painted yellow.

Hindus in India wear yellow to celebrate the festival of spring.

If someone is said to have a “yellow streak,” that person is considered a coward.

In Japan during the War of Dynasty in 1357, each warrior wore a yellow chrysanthemum as a pledge of courage.

A yellow ribbon is a sign of support for soldiers at the front.

Yellow is a symbol of jealousy and deceit.

In the Middle Ages, actors portraying the dead in a play wore yellow.

To holistic healers, yellow is the color of peace.

Yellow has good visibility and is often used as a color of warning. It is also a symbol for quarantine, an area marked off because of danger.

Yellow journalism” refers to irresponsible and alarmist reporting.

White


White Knight in Armor on Horseback

A white flag is the universal symbol for truce.

White means mourning in China and Japan.

Angels are usually depicted wearing white robes.

The ancient Greeks wore white to bed to ensure pleasant dreams.

The Egyptian pharaohs wore white crowns.

The ancient Persians believed all gods wore white.

A “white elephant” is a rare, pale elephant considered sacred to the people of India, Thailand, Burma, and Sri Lanka; in this country, it is either a possession that costs more than it is worth to keep or an item that the owner doesn't want but can't get rid of.

It's considered good luck to be married in a white garment.

White heat is a state of intense enthusiasm, anger, devotion, or passion.

To whitewash is to gloss over defects or make something seem presentable that isn't.

A “white knight” is a rescuer.

A white list contains favored items (as opposed to a blacklist).

A “whiteout” occurs when there is zero visibility during a blizzard.

A “white sale” is a sale of sheets, towels, and other bed and bath items.

A “whited sepulcher” is a person who is evil inside but appears good on the outside, a hypocrite.

White lightning” is slang for moonshine, a homebrewed alcohol.

A white room is a clean room as well as a temperature-controlled, dust-free room for precision instruments.

White water is the foamy, frothy water in rapids and waterfalls.

Black


Black and White Sheep

The ancient Egyptians and Romans used black for mourning, as do most Europeans and Americans today.

The “Blackshirts” were the security troops in Hitler's German army, also known as the S.S.

Black often stands for secrecy.

Black humor is morbid or unhealthy and gloomy humor.

A “blackhearted” person is evil.

If a business is “in the black,” it is making money.

A “blacklist” is a list of persons or organizations to be boycotted or punished.

Black is associated with sophistication and elegance. A “black tie” event is formal.

A black belt in karate identifies an expert.

A black flag in a car race is the signal for a driver to go to the pits.

A blackguard is a scoundrel.

The ancient Egyptians believed that black cats had divine powers.

Black lung is a coal miner's disease caused by the frequent inhaling of coal dust.

Blackmail is getting things by threat.

Black market is illegal trade in goods or money.

A black sheep is an outcast.

Blackwash” (as opposed to “whitewash”) is to uncover or bring out in the light.

A blackout is a period of darkness from the loss of electricity, for protection against nighttime air raids, or, in the theater, to separate scenes in a play.

When you “black out,” you temporarily lose consciousness.

See also Quiz: The Psychology of Color.


Making WishesSpeaking of LanguageSay It with Flowers

More on What Colors Mean from Fact Monster:

  • Movies, art, TV, music, holidays, architecture, fashion, calendars, toys - Learn about major world holidays, festivals around the world, oddball U.S. state holidays, birthstones, the seasons, the modern calendar, architecture, music, movies, TV, fashion, Oscars and Grammys
  • Color - Psychology, symbolism, and interesting facts about color.|Find out how color can affect your mood and read other interesting facts about color
  • Color Psychology - Colors often have different meanings in various cultures. In Western societies, the meanings of various colors have changed over the years. Today in the U.S., researchers have generally found the following to be accurate.
  • The History of Color - Learn how people in ancient times created colors for garments.
  • Seasonal Color Analysis - Learn how color analysis helps people choose the right colors to wear