Red has many different associations in English. People’s faces often turn red if they are angry or embarrassed, so red has these ideas in English.
- He saw red and started screaming at everyone when he heard. –> He got very angry.
- They were left red-faced after they lost 8-0. –> They were embarrassed.
Red is also the colour of debt. Think about it: if you see your bank balance on a screen, the number will be black if you have money, and red if you owe the bank money:
- We’ve been in the red for months. I don’t know what to do. –> We’re in debt.
And also bureaucracy, in the phrase red tape:
- There’s too much red tape for people trying to start a business. –> There’s too much bureaucracy; too many complicated rules and laws.
Yellow carries the idea of being easily frightened, or cowardly.
- He’s too yellow-bellied to say what he really thinks. –> He’s too scared.
This isn’t used so often in modern spoken English, although it’s still understood, so the association is still true.
Green is the colour of jealousy or envy: when you want what someone else has.
- I turned green with envy when I heard he had got the job instead of me. –> I felt very envious, because I wanted that job.
- She tries to control her jealousy, but the green-eyed monster always comes back… –>She can’t stop herself feeling jealous, no matter how much she tries.
If you’re interested, the phrase green-eyed monster to mean jealousy was first used by Shakespeare.
Nowadays, the colour green is often associated with the environment, and being environmentally friendly.
- Green activists protested against the opening of the factory. –> Green = environmentalist, people who care deeply about the environment.
- We need to develop a greener energy sector. –> We need to make energy production more environmentally friendly.
The colour blue is associated with depression and sadness.
- Long, dark winters always give me the blues. –> They make me feel sad.
- He’s been feeling a bit blue lately. –> He’s been a bit down/depressed.
Sometimes, blue carries the idea of rude or pornographic.
- There were a group of guys drinking in the corner, turning the air blue. –> Swearing and using bad language.
- I went to see the film with my parents, but it got a little blue in some parts. How embarrassing! –> There was a lot of sex.
What do you associate with the colour grey? In English, grey often represents something boring, unattractive or colourless.
- It’s a grey city, with nothing to recommend it –> It’s boring and unattractive.
Grey can also be used to mean that something is unclear, usually in the phrase grey area:
- Many companies use grey areas in the law to avoid paying tax. –> The law is sometimes unclear.
The colour black has mostly negative associations. It can mean something dark, bad, or illegal.
- I don’t remember the accident at all—I just blacked out. –> I lost consciousness, and wasn’t aware of anything.
- After the disaster last time, we blacklisted their company. –> We refuse to work with them again, because they did such a bad job.
- You can get a better rate if you change money on the black market. –> On the black market = illegally.