Colour idioms
Michal Juda from Poland writes:
  Learning with colours was a leitmotif of Learning English recently. Can you help me to understand two of the expressions: whiter than white and paint the town red?
Roger Woodham replies:
We have many idiomatic expressions involving the whole range of colours in English. In answering your question, Michal, we will have a look today at just three colours: red, white and blue (the colours of our national flag).
white colour idioms
White in British culture is traditionally associated with purity and innocence. See if you can work out the meaning of the following white colour idioms word for word. Then check your understanding by reading examples of how they are used in context. Finally, check again against the explanations given.
go as white as a sheet
white coffee
a white-collar worker
tell a white lie
whiter than white
The news must've been bad. She went as white as a sheet when she read the telegram.
- Do you want white or black coffee? - White please. Well, dark brown, actually - just a dash of milk.
He hopes to get a white-collar job, though, with his level of education, he'll be lucky to get a blue-collar one.
It's OK to tell a white lie. It doesn't do any harm and it nearly always does some good.
She's whiter than white - the image of perfection. In her entire life she has never put a foot wrong.
go as white as a sheet: become extremely pale in the face
white coffee: coffee with milk (note: not white tea; instead: tea with milk)
white-collar worker: an office worker (note blue-collar = factory or physical work)
tell a white lie: telling a lie to avoid making someone upset
whiter than white: someone who is totally fair and honest
red colour idioms
Red is often associated with anger or danger (red traffic lights). In British culture, red-haired people (redheads) are traditionally hot-tempered and high-spirited. Try to work out the meaning of these red colour idioms in the same way as before.
be in the red
see red
roll out the red carpet
paint the town red
a red-letter day
She's always in the red, never in the black. No overdraft would ever be big enough for her.
When she realised saw that no housework had been done all week, she saw red and banished us from her holiday home.
It'll be time to roll out the red carpet when Auntie Meg returns home. We haven't seen her for twenty years.
They decided they would paint the town red after winning so much money by gambling on the horses.
It was a red-letter day for us when we were able to move into our new holiday house - the house of our dreams.
be in the red: have minus amounts on one's bank account (in the black = in credit)
see red: lose one's temper; become suddenly angry
roll out the red carpet: put on a special welcome for an important person
paint the town red: enjoy yourself by going to bars and/or clubs
a red-letter day: a very happy or exciting day
blue colour idioms
Blue is traditionally the colour of boys' clothes in British culture - pink for girls. It is also associated with loyalty and true love. Try to work out the meaning of these blue colour idioms in the same way as before.
a blue movie
out of the blue
scream blue murder
the boys in blue
a blue-eyed boy
Blue movies, or adult videos as they are sometimes called, are normally only available from sex shops.
His suggestion that we should move to Cyprus came completely out of the blue. I wasn't expecting it.
They started to scream blue murder when I told them they would have to work an extra half an hour on Saturday afternoons.
It's a criminal offence. We can't sweep it under the carpet. We should hand it over to the boys in blue.
He's the blue-eyed boy of skateboarding all right. He's won this competition five times.
a blue movie: a film with explicit adult scenes
out of the blue: suddenly and unexpectedly
scream blue murder: make a lot of fuss; shout loudly and emotionally in protest
the boys in blue: the uniformed police
a blue-eyed boy: a young man (grudgingly) admired because he is successful