This is the second of two posts that focus on idioms that contain a word for a colour. A couple of weeks ago, we looked at blue, green and red idioms. This week, we’re rather monochrome, looking mainly at idioms with ‘black’ and ‘white’ in them.
The phrase in black and white is sometimes used to mean ‘in writing’, usually in the context of proof: I could scarcely believe it was true, but there it was, in black and white.
Someone who sees things in black and white judges people and their actions in a way that is too simple, viewing them as either good or bad, right or wrong: Richard has a tendency to see things in black and white. We also say that something isn’t a black-and-white issue, meaning that it isn’t clear what is right and what is wrong: There are so many elements to be considered here – it isn’t a black-and white issue. The phrase shades of grey (UK)/gray (US), meanwhile, refers to a situation in which it is not clear what is right and wrong: There are no shades of grey in this novel – Alex is perfect and Daniel is a monster.
If someone is black and blue, they are covered in bruises (= injured, dark areas of the skin): Look at your arms – you’re black and blue!
A black sheep is a family member who the rest of the family disapprove of because of their behaviour: He’d got into debt when he was young and walked out on his wife. He was kind of the black sheep of the family.
If someone criticizes another person for a bad characteristic that they have themselves, you might describe this as the pot calling the kettle black. Ellie described Tom as self-obsessed. Talk about the pot calling the kettle black!
If someone is as white as a sheet, their face has suddenly lost its usual warm colour, because they are afraid or shocked: The driver was unhurt, but he looked as white as a sheet.
In UK English, someone who is whiter than white is morally perfect, never doing anything wrong. This phrase is often used when suggesting that a person is not, in fact, perfect: We were meant to believe that she was whiter than white. The truth was perhaps a little different.
Finally, a white lie is a lie that is told in order to be polite or to prevent someone from being upset by the truth: To be honest, I didn’t really like her hat so I told a little white lie.