Color Idioms

Language is a colorful tapestry of expressions, and idioms add vibrant strokes to our conversations. When we talk about color idioms, we’re referring to phrases that incorporate color to convey a particular meaning. These expressions have woven their way into our everyday language, painting imagery with words to capture emotions, situations, and characteristics with an added layer of descriptive color.

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Color Idioms

What Are Color Idioms?

Color idioms are expressions where colors are used metaphorically to convey meanings not directly linked to the actual color. These idioms permeate everyday language, often describing feelings, situations, or characteristics vividly and succinctly. For instance:

  • White lie: A harmless or small lie told to avoid hurting someone’s feelings.
  • Black sheep: A person who is considered a disgrace or embarrassment to a particular group or family. Example: He always felt like the black sheep in his family because he was the only one who didn’t go to college.

45+ Color Idioms in English (with Examples and Definitions)

Origins of Color Idioms

The origins of color idioms are as diverse as the idioms themselves, often stemming from historical contexts, cultural practices, or universal human experiences. Here are a couple of origins to ponder:

  • Red tape: This idiom originated from the red tape that was used to bind official documents, symbolizing the convoluted process in bureaucratic systems.
  • Green with envy: This perhaps derives from the facial pallor that can occur when one is feeling unwell, which might have a greenish hue, thus associating it with the negative emotion of envy.

Color Idioms with Meanings and Examples

Color Idioms With Meanings

Idioms Meaning
Paint the town red To go out and have a wild or lively time
See red To become very angry
In the red To be in debt or operating at a loss
Golden opportunity A very favorable chance or opportunity
Silver lining A positive aspect in a negative situation
Purple prose Writing that is overly elaborate or ornate
On a silver platter To receive something without having to work for it
Green light Permission to proceed with a project or plan
Black and white Clearly defined or straightforward
Red tape Bureaucratic procedures and paperwork
Green with envy Very jealous or envious.
Red-handed Caught in the act of doing something wrong.
Black sheep A member of a family or group who is member of a family or group who is regarded as a disgrace or is the least favored. regarded as a disgrace or is the least favored.
White lie A harmless or trivial lie, often told to avoid hurting someone’s feelings or for convenience.
Blue in the face Exhausted from great, often futile effort or argument; can also mean to do something intensely.
Yellow-bellied Cowardly or fearful.
Pink slip A notice of dismissal from employment.
Grey area A topic that is not clearly one thing or the other, ambiguous, or lacking a clear-cut distinction.
Brownie points Informal recognition for a good deed or effort, often for the sake of personal gain in favor.
Out of the blue Something happening unexpectedly or without warning.

Color Idioms with Example Sentences

Idioms Example Sentence
Paint the town red After winning the lottery, they decided to paint the town red and celebrate all night.
See red When he realized he had been cheated, he began to see red.
In the red The company has been in the red for the last three quarters and needs to turn a profit soon.
Golden opportunity The job offer was a golden opportunity that she knew she couldn’t pass up.
Silver lining Even though he lost his job, the silver lining was that he found more time to spend with his family.
Purple prose The novel was criticized for its purple prose, overflowing with flowery language.
On a silver platter She was accused of having everything handed to her on a silver platter.
Green light The city council finally gave the green light for the new park development.
Black and white The contract terms were black and white, leaving no room for confusion.
Red tape We have to cut through a lot of red tape to get the necessary permits.
Green with envy She was green with envy when she saw her friend’s brand-new sports car.
Red-handed The thief was caught red-handed as he tried to steal the jewels.
Black sheep He’s always been the black sheep of the family, with his rebellious ways.
White lie I told a white lie about her dress, saying it looked great to avoid hurting her feelings.
Blue in the face You can argue until you’re blue in the face, but I won’t change my decision.
Yellow-bellied They called him yellow-bellied for not standing up to the bullies.
Pink slip After the merger, many employees received a pink slip and had to leave the company.
Grey area The legality of the issue was a grey area that required expert advice.
Brownie points He earned some brownie points with his boss by staying
Out of the blue The decision to move abroad came out of the blue and surprised all of her friends.

Color Idioms in English by Topics

English is rich with colorful idioms that paint our conversations with vibrancy and imagery. These idioms often carry meanings that extend far beyond the literal hues they mention. Here’s a categorized compilation of color idioms in English, grouped by various topics:

Emotions and States of Being

Feeling Blue:

  • To feel sad or depressed.
  • Example: After hearing the bad news, he was feeling blue all day.

Red with Rage:

  • To become very angry.
  • Example: When she found out her car was towed, she was red with rage.

Green with Envy:

  • To be very jealous or envious.
  • Example: He was green with envy when he saw his neighbor’s new sports car.

In the Pink:

  • Being in good health or condition.
  • Example: She’s been exercising regularly and is now in the pink.

Tickled Pink:

  • To be very pleased or delighted.
  • Example: She was tickled pink to receive a surprise bouquet from her friend.

Business and Work


  • Refers to workers who perform professional, managerial, or administrative work.
  • Example: White-collar workers often spend a lot of time in office environments.


  • Refers to manual or skilled labor workers.
  • Example: The factory was mostly staffed by blue-collar workers.

Golden Opportunity:

  • An excellent chance or opportunity.
  • Example: The job offer in Paris was a golden opportunity he couldn’t pass up.

Red Tape:

  • Excessive bureaucracy or adherence to rules and formalities.
  • Example: We were unable to get the permit due to all the red tape.

In the Black:

  • To be profitable or financially solvent.
  • Example: After years of struggle, the company is finally in the black.

Relationships and Social Situations

Red-Letter Day:

  • A day that is pleasantly noteworthy or memorable.
  • Example: Her graduation was a red-letter day for the whole family.

White Lie:

  • A harmless or small lie, often told to avoid hurting someone’s feelings.
  • Example: He told a white lie when he said he liked her homemade sweater.

Give Someone the Green Light:

  • To give permission to proceed with something.
  • Example: The director gave the green light to start the new project.

Black Sheep:

  • A member of a group, typically a family, who is regarded as a disgrace or failure.
  • Example: He’s always been the black sheep of the family, choosing a path very different from his siblings.

Success and Failure

Out of the Blue:

  • Something happened unexpectedly.
  • Example: She received a job offer out of the blue, which took her by surprise.

Green Around the Gills:

  • Looking sick or pale.
  • Example: After the boat ride, he was looking a bit green around the gills.

Golden Handshake:

  • A large payment is given to someone when they leave a job, usually when they are forced to retire.
  • Example: The CEO received a golden handshake when he was asked to leave the company.

Silver Lining:

  • A positive aspect of a bad situation.
  • Example: The silver lining of losing his job was that he started his own successful business.

White Elephant:

  • A possession that is useless or troublesome, especially one that is expensive to maintain or difficult to dispose of.
  • Example: The old mansion became a white elephant for the family, as the maintenance costs were too high.

Honesty and Dishonesty

True Colors:

  • Revealing one’s true nature, character, or intentions.
  • Example: He showed his true colors when he refused to help his friend in need.

White as Snow:

  • To be innocent and pure.
  • Example: Her reputation was as white as snow, without any hint of scandal.

Black Market:

  • Illegal traffic or trade in officially controlled or scarce commodities.
  • Example: During the war, many goods were bought and sold through the black market.

Red Herring:

  • Something that misleads or distracts from a relevant or important question.
  • Example: The clue turned out to be a red herring that led the detectives away from the real culprit.

Caught Red-Handed:

  • To be caught in the act of doing something wrong.
  • Example: The thief was caught red-handed as he was leaving the store.


Once in a Blue Moon:

  • An event that happens infrequently.
  • Example: He only visits his hometown once in a blue moon.

Green Thumb:

  • A natural talent for gardening.
  • Example: Everything she plants thrives; she really has a green thumb.

Black and White:

  • Something very clear and easy to understand; thinking in terms of clear opposites without any shades of gray.
  • Example: Ethical issues are not always black and white.

Caution and Warning


  • Cowardly or easily scared.
  • Example: He was too yellow-bellied to stand up to the bullies.

Red Flag:

  • A sign or warning of some impending problem.
  • Example: The lack of communication raised a red flag for the project manager.

Code Red:

  • A state of emergency or a warning of a critical situation.
  • Example: When the hurricane approached, the city declared a code red.

Miscellaneous Expressions

Paint the Town Red:

  • To go out and enjoy oneself flamboyantly.
  • Example: After the final exams, they were ready to paint the town red.

With Flying Colors:

  • To pass something with distinction; to accomplish something with great success.
  • Example: She passed her driving test with flying colors.

Green Light:

  • To give approval to proceed with a project or task.
  • Example: Once the budget was approved, the project got the green light.

Grey Area:

  • Something unclear or undefined that does not conform to a rule or category.
  • Example: The legality of the issue was a grey area, with no clear regulations in place.

Blue Ribbon:

  • Denoting a prize or award for excellence.
  • Example: The blue ribbon panel was convened to judge the competition.