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English Idioms with Colors

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Do you know how easy it is to learn the idioms of the English language? Strange at first sight, expressions become clear to us when we learn how they originated. Therefore, today we suggest that you read the fascinating stories of the origin of the color idioms of English and also consider examples of their use. After reading, you will easily remember them and will be able to enrich your speech with vivid expressions.

Show One's True Colors

English-speaking people say this in the case when a person shows what he or she really is, or reveals his or her true intentions in some situation. In fact, each of us wears the mask, but you show yourself sooner or later. The expression is used not only in a negative, but also in a positive sense: sometimes people do better than we expect from them.

She always behaves very brazenly and defiantly, but when we were attacked by a pack of stray dogs, she immediately showed her true colors – she just ran away.

A Red Herring

Red herring means some strange object that distracts attention from the main thought of a text or conversation, a distracting maneuver, something that deceives a person. The very strange expression for us. But it is easy to remember. Red is a bright color, and bright colors always catch your eye and can distract our attention from something really important.

One of the most popular ways of making herring is smoking. During this process, the fish acquires a very distinct smell and a rather rich color, which the English call red. The distinct smell of smoked herring was the reason for its original use. The hunters used an odorous fish for training basset hounds. The dogs had to be taught to take a trace and not pay attention to extraneous smells. Therefore, near the road along which the rabbit or other game was running, they spread out the smoked herring and let the puppies follow the trail. Basset Hounds had to take the track of the game not paying attention to the smelling fish.

– It seems that we broke the expensive vase you brought from Prague. On the other hand, while we cleaned the shards, nobody was cut and that is the plus.

– What? Shards are a red herring, what does it matter if the fact is that you broke a vase for a thousand dollars?

To Have Green Fingers (British, Australian Version)/Green Thumb (American Version)

One talks this way about good gardeners. The expression is used in a positive sense when a person wants to be praised for his or her talents in growing any plants. Most often one says so about gardeners.

Some explain the origin simply: the plants are green, and the hands of those who work with them get dirty and become green. But there is another interesting story of the origin of the expression. King Edward I was very fond of green peas. The monarch had a dozen servants who peeled this pea. The best worker among the servants was identified by the green spots on the fingers: the greener were the fingers, the more peas he or she brushed. This lucky person was generously rewarded for his or her work. History is not directly related to gardening, but some suggest that this is the true story of the origin of the idiom.

Our whole family has green fingers. Love for the plant was instilled in us from childhood.

A White Elephant

A white elephant is something cumbersome, uncomfortable and expensive. Usually one says so about an expensive thing that is not very necessary in everyday life.

The idiom is based on an interesting legend of ancient Siam (now Thailand). According to legend, the ruler of Siam gave white elephants to those who were ill-treated by him. At that time, white elephants were considered sacred animals. The maintenance of such an elephant was very expensive: first, it was necessary to feed it with a lot of good food, and secondly, it was necessary to provide access to the animal for people who worshiped the "shrine". The person could not get rid of the elephant, because it was a gift from the king himself! Often a white elephant destroyed the life of the recipient.

He wanted Hammer all his life and he got it, but this is a white elephant – where will he take money for petrol? It is difficult to imagine how much this car consumes.

To Paint the Town Red

Paint the town in red – that is what they say about a person who went to a party where there was a lot of alcohol, went to have fun with friends. The expression is often used in the youth environment.

One of the versions of the origin of the expression belongs to Oscar Wilde. He believed that the idiom came from the "Divine Comedy" of Dante, one said something like this in hell: "We are the ones who paint the world red with sins". According to another version, the expression came up in the US in the late XIX century. On Independence Day in the evening, all the streets were red from fireworks, and young people wandered around the city and had fun.

Today I defended my thesis, so I have every right to paint the town in red.

White as a Sheet/Ghost

One says this way about a human who turned pale with fright.

There are two versions of the origin of this expression. One of them says that the idiom began to be used in the 17th century. When a person is scared, blood is cast from the face, and it becomes pale, almost white. At that time, white sheets were considered to be the whitest and cleanest object, that is why such a comparison arose.

Another version of the origin of the expression takes us to the theater. In the Middle Ages, ghosts could not be depicted on stage. If the story needed such a character, then the actor first played the patient at deaths door, and then the ghost. Then one began to think about the costume. How can you depict a ghost? In the days of Shakespeare, one tried to dress the actors who portrayed the ghost into something like a worn chain mail. However, the ghosts turned out to be noisy, ridiculous and not terrible. In the XVIII century, there was a new tradition – to dress an actor in sheets. Such a ghost turned out to be terrible, noiseless, mystical. Hence the logical chain "fear – a white sheet – a ghost" appeared.

What happened? You are white as a ghost.

To Be Yellow-Bellied/A Yellow Gut

English-speaking people speak this way of a cowardly person, often pampered. He or she is easily frightened by even a minor threat, such people can betray someone, saving their lives.

The first version of the origin of the idiom is simple: tomtits are small birds with yellow abdomens, they are all afraid of everything. Therefore, the coward is compared with a bird.

The second story is much more interesting and complicated. The yellow color was previously associated with cowardice, perfidy, impermanence, jealousy. In France, the doors of the traitor's house were painted in yellow or smeared with something yellow. The yellow star in the Middle Ages was a sign with which Jews were labeled as traitors to Jesus Christ. This terrible tradition was continued also by the Nazis, who painted a yellow six-pointed star on the houses of Jews and made the Jews wear this sign on their clothes. In the paintings of the Middle Ages, Judas Iscariot was always portrayed in yellow robes. In Spain, the victims of the Inquisition were dressed in yellow, this was a symbol that they are guilty of heresy and high treason.

But what is the relationship between the yellow and the belly? The word gut means not only the insides, but also self-control, courage. When a person is sick, his or her skin changes color and may turn yellow. That is, "Yellow insides" – flawed, sick insides have become a sign of lack of courage.

Jack was always yellow-bellied, he is afraid of heights.

A Black Dog

Usually, people say that when they get depressed, discouraged. This expression is attributed to Winston Churchill: he often used it.

In fact, the idiom was first used by Horace. In ancient Rome, it was considered a very bad omen to see a black dog with puppies. And this superstition lasted a long time. Where did this dislike for animals come from? A black dog was associated with evil spirits. Remember, Mephistopheles comes to Faust in the form of a black poodle. Scandinavia had its own evil spirits – the ghastly dog ​​Garm. The Ancient Greek three-headed Cerberus was also usually depicted in black. All these traditions became a prerequisite for the fact that dogs are not allowed to approach Christian churches and Moslem mosques: these animals are considered unclean. Apparently because of this the black dog became associated with something bad, dull.

I feel this black dog in me for the fifth day, but I will try to cope with this.

Every Cloud Has a Silver Lining

English-speaking people use this expression when they speak about some complicated situation, an accident in which one can find positive aspects.

The idiom was first used by servicemen during the American Civil War. If the expression has a positive, hopeful meaning now, then initially it had a negative connotation. "Clouds" during the war were clouds of smoke from the enemy's artillery, and "silver lining" – the flickering of guns in the rays of the morning sun. Most fights began before dawn, so soldiers sometimes confused the usual fog and haze from enemy artillery. All recruits were warned that it was worthwhile to avoid "clouds with silver glimpses". Then the expression "not every cloud has a silver lining" appeared, which meant "there are also safe places, not everything is so bad".

When the war was over and the soldiers returned home, they began to use the saying "not every cloud has a silver lining" when suddenly found the positive side of a situation. However, in time, the word "not" fell out of the phrase, and the idiom acquired a modern sound.

You were fired from work, but each cloud has a silver lining, you can find another one that will be better and more interesting.

We hope you were interested in learning the history of the origin of the color idioms of the English language. Teach them and use actively, let the English-speaking interlocutors be surprised by your right rich speech.

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