Our blog posts about idioms are some of the most popular ones for our readers. Recently, we’ve posted two about idioms that use names for colours – the first one was Seeing red and green with envy, followed by Black sheep and white lies.
One of our readers commented on the second post: she wondered whether any of the expressions to do with the colours black and white were racist in origin. We replied, “Your instinct to examine the language is a good one, since there are so many words and phrases that have been used in the past which we now see are offensive. It’s also true that the words black and white can simply be used as names for colours, and they are widely used that way in many idioms. We don’t provide word origins on our website, but any words or phrases that are offensive have the label offensive. And we update the website frequently, so as the language changes, we also change the advice we give about using it.”
After that response, some people asked questions about other idioms that may be racist. Because we take very seriously our responsibility to help people use English accurately and effectively, we think it’s important to say more about this topic. You may want to look back at the Black sheep and white lies post because we will mention some of the idioms from that post here.