Foreign color idioms

 

Last time we talked about the ways colors have infused themselves into the English language. Naturally, this happens with other languages, too. But often there’s a little tweak. For instance, in English one could get a black eye, but in French it would be a black butter eye. And in English one could get red with rage, but in Italian it would be green with rage.

Alan Kennedy’s Color/Language Project has collected hundreds and hundreds of idioms involving color from languages across the globe. Below is a small sampling of my favorites from this site. If you enjoy these, I encourage you to check out Alan’s site. You’ll love it.

 

  literal translation meaning
French
passer une nuit blanche to spend a white night to have a sleepless night
blanc-bec white beak an inexperienced but pretentious person
une oie blanche a white goose a naive, silly girl
œil au beurre noir black butter eye bruised eye
Chou vert et vert chou cabbage green and green cabbage six of one, a half-dozen of the other
faire quelqu’un marron to make someone brown to cheat on someone
Spanish
blanca como la nalga de una monja white like a nun’s butt cheek pale
más listo que los ratones colorados more clever than red mice very cunning
un principe azul a blue prince Prince Charming
Italian
di punto in bianco from a point in white suddenly, unexpectedly
verde dalla rabbia green from rage very angry
un giallo a yellow an unsolved mystery
eminenza grigia gray eminence a powerful man controlling the situation behind the scenes
German
Halbgötter in Weiß demigods in white physicians
Heute rot, Morgen tot today red, tomorrow dead here today, gone tomorrow
das Gelbe vom Ei the yellow of the egg a good thing
Blauäugig sein to be blue-eyed naïve, gullible
Nachts sind alle Katzen grau at night all cats are gray It makes no difference (under certain circumstances).
sich eine goldene Nase verdienen earn yourself a golden nose to make a fortune
Polish
mieć żółte papiery to have yellow papers to be insane
myśleć o niebieskich migdałach to think about blue almonds to daydream
szary cztowiek gray person average Joe
Russian
отложить на чёрный день put aside for a black day put aside for a rainy day
голубая мечта light blue desire the thing you crave the most
Hebrew
אין לי מושג ירוק I don’t have a green notion I have no idea
צהובים זה לזה yellow to each other hating each other
טלית שכולה תכלת a light blue prayer shawl innocent & pure (used sarcastically)
Scottish Gaelic
chan ‘eil e geal da he has no white for him he is not fond of him
dearg-amadan a red fool a complete fool
Tagalog
maputi ang tainga white-eared stingy
maitim ang buto bone is black bad person
Greek
άσπρο πάτο! white bottom! bottoms up!
μαύρα μάτια κάναμε να σε δούμε our eyes turned black to see you we missed you for a long time
πράσινα άλογα green horses! an exclamation indicating disbelief; nonsense
πρασίνισε απ’το κακό του he turned green from anger he got very angry
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12 thoughts on “Foreign color idioms

  1. This is great. When you listed the English idioms I was thinking, “Yeah, I know, but what do they say in other languages?” Thanks for the link and the choice selections [that’s NOT redundant].

      • We in Canada are often the last to know about everything, but that DOES explain a whole bunch of everything. Vampires are rather verbose, aren’t they? I suppose that’s the 17th C ethic/aesthetic that they hold dear in their cold, dead hearts.

  2. This is an awesome list! I saved a couple just to help lighten the null from other reading materials I have to cover. Light blue desire……awesome.

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