Seeing red and green with envy (Idioms with colours, part 1)

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by Kate Woodford

Idioms are sometimes easier to remember when they create a vivid image in your mind. The English idioms in this post all contain a word for a colour which might help you to commit them to memory.

Starting with ‘green’, (which features in quite a few phrases), if you (UK) have green fingers/(US) have a green thumb, plants grow well in your care. You can also use the adjectives (UK) green fingered/(US) green thumbed: Your garden looks amazing. You clearly have green fingers! / It’s the perfect present for a green-thumbed friend!

If the government or other organization gives the green light to a project, they give permission for it to start: A brand new 120 bed care home has been given the green light by the council.

Finally for ‘green’, you say you are green with envy when you wish you were in someone else’s situation or had what they have: Rebecca’s going to Italy for two weeks and we’re all green with envy in the office!

‘Blue’ is in three nice idioms. If something happens once in a blue moon, it very rarely happens: We very rarely hear from Ryan. Once in a blue moon, he calls. Something that happens out of the blue is completely unexpected: One day, completely out of the blue, she called and said she was in Madrid.  Meanwhile, the phrase until you’re blue in the face is used to say that repeated attempts to persuade someone to do something have absolutely no effect: You can ask him to eat his vegetables till you’re blue in the face, but he refuses to do it.

‘Red’ features in several idioms, two of which are related to anger. To see red is to become very angry: People who are cruel to animals make me see red. In UK English, a topic of conversation or situation that is (like) a red rag to a bull is likely to make someone very angry: It’s probably better not to mention to my dad that you were on the protest march. It’s like a red rag to a bull.

If you or your bank account are in the red, you owe money to the bank. (The opposite is in the black.): It was only four days after payday and she was in the red again.

To catch someone red-handed is to discover them while they’re doing something bad or illegal: I caught her, red-handed, taking a cookie from the jar!

Finally for red, if you roll out the red carpet for a guest, you treat them very well: They took her to the finest restaurants and showed her all the sights. They really rolled out the red carpet for her.

We’ll continue this theme next month with a look at idioms with the words ‘black’ and ‘white’, amongst other colours.



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