October 05, 2015 15:03 UTC

Words and Their Stories: Colorful Expressions

Read, listen and learn English with this story. Double-click on any word to find the definition in the Merriam-Webster Learner's Dictionary.


Play or download an MP3 of this story

Now, the VOA Special English program WORDS AND THEIR STORIES.

Every people has its own way of saying things, its own special expressions. Many everyday American expressions are based on colors.

Red is a hot color. Americans often use it to express heat. They may say they are red hot about something unfair. When they are red hot they are very angry about something. The small hot tasting peppers found in many Mexican foods are called red hots for their color and their fiery taste. Fast loud music is popular with many people. They may say the music is red hot, especially the kind called Dixieland jazz.

Pink is a lighter kind of red. People sometimes say they are in the pink when they are in good health. The expression was first used in America at the beginning of the twentieth century. It probably comes from the fact that many babies are born with a nice pink color that shows that they are in good health.

Blue is a cool color. The traditional blues music in the United States is the opposite of red hot music. Blues is slow, sad and soulful. Duke Ellington and his orchestra recorded a famous song – Mood Indigo – about the deep blue color, indigo. In the words of the song: “You ain’t been blue till you’ve had that Mood Indigo.” Someone who is blue is very sad.

The color green is natural for trees and grass. But it is an unnatural color for humans. A person who has a sick feeling stomach may say she feels a little green. A passenger on a boat who is feeling very sick from high waves may look very green.

Sometimes a person may be upset because he does not have something as nice as a friend has, like a fast new car. That person may say he is green with envy. Some people are green with envy because a friend has more dollars or greenbacks. Dollars are called greenbacks because that is the color of the back side of the paper money.

The color black is used often in expressions. People describe a day in which everything goes wrong as a black day. The date of a major tragedy is remembered as a black day. A blacklist is illegal now. But at one time, some businesses refused to employ people who were on a blacklist for belonging to unpopular organizations.

In some cases, colors describe a situation. A brown out is an expression for a reduction in electric power. Brown outs happen when there is too much demand for electricity. The electric system is unable to offer all the power needed in an area. Black outs were common during World War Two. Officials would order all lights in a city turned off to make it difficult for enemy planes to find a target in the dark of night.

This forum has been closed.
There are no comments in this forum. Be first and add one

Learn with The News

  • Audio How Competitive Is Your Country?

    The Word Economic Forum released its latest Global Competitiveness Report this week. There was little change among the top countries. But one economist says top countries are leading in what she calls the human factor. Find out what that means. More

  • Audio UN Could Ban Luxury Goods to North Korea

    A South Korean official says the United Nations may consider new actions against North Korea if the country fires a long-range missile. He said the possible actions include expanding a ban on the export of luxury goods and strategic materials to North Korea. More

  • Audio Kenyan Church Welcomes LGBT Members

    In early September, the Anglican Church of Kenya cancelled the license of clergymen suspected of homosexuality. Some feared that Kenyan churches do not welcome homosexuals. But one location offers religious services to gays, homosexuals, bisexual and transgender people. More

  • Video Drought Affecting California’s Sequoias

    California is suffering under a historic four-year drought and scientists say even the state's famed sequoia trees are feeling the pain. The National Park Service has started detailed research to see how it can help the oldest living things on earth survive. More

  • Video Father of Oregon Victim Says Gunman Targeted Christians

    U.S. officials are investigating an attack Thursday at a college in rural southern Oregon. Officials identified the gunman as 26-year-old Chris Harper Mercer. They said he killed at least nine people at Umpqua Community College. More

Featured Stories

  • Audio Everyday Grammar: Comparatives and Superlatives

    When we want to compare things we use comparative and superlative forms. Find out some of rules and exceptions of these important forms in Everyday Grammar for this week. More

  • Video ‘The Martian’ Mixes Science, Science Fiction

    Hollywood's latest space operation gone wrong movie stars Matt Damon as an astronaut mistakenly left on Mars. The film is a hit with movie critics. But what do science critics think? More

  • The Open Boat by Stephen Crane, Part 2

    Video The Open Boat by Stephen Crane, Part Two

    We continue the story of “The Open Boat” by Stephen Crane. As we told you last week, the story is based on true events. In eighteen ninety-six, Crane was traveling to Cuba as a news reporter. On his way there, his ship sank in the Atlantic Ocean. Crane climbed into the last remaining lifeboat. More

  • Audio Great Barrier Reef Choking on Pollutants

    The Great Barrier Reef is off the coast of Queensland in northeastern Australia. It is the largest living organism on Earth. However, the reef is being damaged by climate change and pollutants from farms that flow into the reef. More

  • Caffeine could help your memory.

    Audio Coffee Before Bed Does More Than Keep You Awake

    Sleep is important for our mental and physical health. But, an internationally popular drug may interfere with that. Caffeine is found in coffee and other foods and drink. Researchers now say to be careful about when you drink it! More

Practice Your Writing

Confessions of an English Learner
Confessions of an English Learner blog

Tell us About Our Programs