「ST」は紙名を新たに「Alpha」として2018年6月29日より新創刊しました。 Alpha以降の英文記事はこちら
「ST」は紙名を新たに「Alpha」として2018年6月29日より新創刊しました。 Alpha以降の英文記事はこちら


The colour code in English

By Mike Dwane


There's a colour code in English that means when your "mood is black," you are also "feeling blue." According to this code, you can be "white with rage" and at the same time "see red."

There are dozens of everyday expressions in English where colour conveys some meaning. And it must be confusing for language students that different colours can be used for the same emotion or that the same colour can mean different things.

Blues music can be upbeat and fun but when a musician is "playing the blues," it most often means a lament over some misfortune or loss. There are hundreds of classic blues songs about having been sent to prison or sent to war; or about having lost a wife, a harvest or a whole way of life.

Linking the colour blue to sadness or depression goes at least as far back as the 14th century, when it was used by the English poet Geoffrey Chaucer. Language students would be advised to steer clear of Chaucer, by the way, as he wrote in Middle English. Even for native speakers, trying to understand Chaucer might leave them "in a blue funk" — a state of high anxiety.

Shakespeare came later and is a little easier to understand. And it is in Shakespeare that we come across jealousy described as "the green-eyed monster." A common expression in modern English is to describe somebody as "green with envy." Jealousy and envy are often confused but are not the same thing. You are jealous when you fear losing something and envious when you covet something somebody else has. A little boy can be jealous when his mother is giving attention to another child. And you can be envious of your neighbour over her nice new sports car.

Green can also be associated with youth and inexperience as in "the college graduate was a little green in the role." But it can also be associated with ill health, especially nausea, as in "he looked a bit green about the gills." When you are "in the pink," you are in excellent health.

Confusingly, people in poor health can also be said to have turned grey or yellow. But yellow can also be associated with cowardice and grey with experience and wisdom.

A "grey area" is something that is unclear or ambiguous, as in "tax avoidance by multinational corporations is a huge legal grey area." But if something is "black and white," that means it is clearly understood.

It may be really tricky working out the colour code in English but don't despair. The silver lining is that everything will be black and white when you are less green.



The Japan Times ST: February 19, 2016

The Japan Times ST 読者アンケート




2018年6月29日号    試読・購読   デジタル版