July 30, 2015 08:13 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.

Multimedia

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.
Comments
     
There are no comments in this forum. Be first and add one

Learn with The News

  • Myanmar hopes to replace poppies with coffee

    Audio In Myanmar, Replacing Poppy Plants with Coffee

    Myanmar’s Shan State is the second-largest opium-producing area in the world. But the area's poppy farmers are now earning less for their crops, as the price of poppy fluctuates. Now, the United Nations is hoping many farmers in Shan State will decide to grow coffee instead. More

  • FILE - In this undated image released by the FBI, Mullah Omar is seen in a wanted poster. An Afghan official said his government is examining claims that reclusive Taliban leader Mullah Omar is dead.

    Audio Afghan Government: Taliban Leader Mullah Omar Died in 2013

    The Taliban earlier this month said Mullah Omar is alive. Also Wednesday, U.S. lawmakers sought details about the group to enforce a nuclear deal with Iran; Turkish warplanes attacked targets in northern Iraq; and Zimbabwean officials are seeking an American dentist who killed a protected lion. More

  • Fish teeth and shark scales from sediment in the South Pacific Ocean dating around the mass extinction event 66 million years ago, photographed under a high powered microscope. (Credit: E. Sibert on Hull lab imaging system, Yale University)

    Audio Dinosaur Death Leads to Rise of Fish

    Tens of millions of years ago, an asteroid hit what is now the Yucatan Peninsula of Mexico. The event led to a global mass extinction that has been linked to the end of the dinosaurs. New examination of fossils from sediment shows what that great disaster led to: a modern age of fish. More

  • Video Turkey Bombs Kurdish Rebel Targets in Iraq

    The North Atlantic Treaty Organization has expressed support for Turkey’s military operations against Islamic State militants and the Kurdish rebel group the PKK. The rebels have been fighting Turkey for greater minority rights for more than 30 years. More

  • Audio North Korea: 'No Interest at All' in Nuclear Deal

    U.S. special diplomat to North Korean talks is meeting with Chinese and South Korean officials about restarting talks with North Korea on its nuclear program. However, North Korea has said it is not interested in giving up its weapons. The six-party talks were suspended in 2009. More

Featured Stories

  • Audio Folk to Rock: When Dylan Went Electric

    Fifty years ago, folk music legend Bob Dylan rocked out at the Newport Folk Festival in Rhode Island on an electric guitar. He was widely booed. The audience may have been unhappy with Dylan’s performance that day, but it changed the direction of music and culture in the United States. More

  • Audio Why Do Mosquitoes Choose to Bite You?

    Mosquitoes need blood to survive and their favorite target is humans. They are completely driven by smell. How do they find their victims and why do they prefer some people more than others? New research now shows how mosquitoes choose who to bite. More

  • 'You're Giving Me the Creeps!'

    "You're giving me the ...!" The jitters, the creeps, the willies, the heebie-jeebies, goose bumps, butterflies, and a heart attack ... you can give all these things to other people. Are they good or bad? Read on to find out! More

  • Audio Everyday Grammar: Can I, Could I, May I?

    English teachers and parents used to try very hard to get young people to use "may" when asking for permission. Now it seems that "can" or "could" works just as well. Learn about the rules for asking permission with these modals. More

  • Video The Devil and Tom Walker by Washington Irving

    In this classic American story, we learn about the hunt for a famous pirate's treasure and the greedy desire for wealth. One couple, Mr. and Mrs Tom Walker, learn the danger of making a deal with the devil. They want the treasure but learn there is a high price to pay. More

Practice Your Writing

Confessions of an English Learner
Confessions of an English Learner blog

Tell us About Our Programs