30 Color Idioms Explained to English as a Second Language Learners

She paints the town red!  Paint the town red is an idiom that means having a good time.
She paints the town red! Paint the town red is an idiom that means having a good time. | Source
She's tickled pink!  Tickled pink is a color idiom that means happy, flattered, or  blushing.
She's tickled pink! Tickled pink is a color idiom that means happy, flattered, or blushing. | Source

1. Whitewash

When people whitewash something, then they try to cover up wrongdoings. To whitewash means to hide bad or illegal behavior that must otherwise be declared and admitted.

Example:

The politician tried to whitewash the illegal sources of his campaign funds by declaring his relatives as campaign contributors.

2. White Lie

A white lie is a lie that is believed to be harmless. People usually tell white lies to avoid offending other people and to appear well-mannered.

Example:

He told a white lie by saying he had a meeting with his constituents when he actually did not.

3. White Elephant

Something is considered as a white elephant if it is expensive to keep but is of no use. A white elephant is simply a waste of money.

Example:

The nuclear plant is a white elephant. Its reactors are shut down but people still pay for its upkeep.

4. In Black and White

Something is put in black and white if it is written in official document and is well-detailed. Something is also in black and white if it is oversimplified, like good or bad, failure or success, and beautiful or ugly.

Example:

The employee put down her complaint in black in white. She claimed that her boss discriminated against her by always judging her in black and white.

5. See Red

When people see red, then it means that they are very angry.

Example:

The unseemly mother saw red and started screaming at her helpless child.

6. Red Tape

Red tape refers to too many, usually unnecessary, processes that slow down the conduct of business. Often associated with government dealings, it is regarded as negative and damaging.

Example:

Government red tape wards off investors wanting to put up businesses in the country.

7. Red Herring

Something is considered a red herring if it is unimportant and keeps focus away from important matters. A red herring is considered a distraction.

Example:

Too much talking is a red herring that does little to solve problems.

8. Out of the Red

Red is commonly used to refer to debt or financial problems. The idiom out of the red therefore means out of debt or without financial liabilities.

Example:

After several years, the company finally managed to pay its debtors and to get out of the red.

9. Catch Someone Red-Handed

When we catch someone red-handed, then we catch him or her in the act of doing something bad. Someone caught red-handed cannot deny his or her wrongdoings.

Example:

He was caught red-handed stealing the watch.

10. Tickled Pink

We are tickled pink if we are cheery, in high spirits, or on cloud nine. We are usually tickled pink by someone or something we like.

Example:

Yuki is tickled pink after she got asked out for dinner.

11. Look at the World Through Rose-Colored Glasses

A person who looks at the world through rose-colored glasses is optimistic, sometimes too optimistic that he or she sees only the good in people or things. He or she refuses to see the bad things, which may be obvious.

Example:

The mother looked at the world through rose-colored glasses and thought that her favorite kids would help her in her old age.

12. In the Pink

Somebody is in the pink if he or she is in great condition. We usually say in the pink of health to mean good health condition.

Example:

She seemed to be in the pink of health until she got diagnosed with cancer.

13. Give/Get The Green Light

We give the green light when we give our consent or permission to someone. We get the green light when we are allowed to do something.

Example:

The executive gave the green light for the project to proceed. Upon getting the green light, the managers started working on their individual tasks.

14. Green With Envy

A person is green with envy if he or she is very jealous. Somebody who is green with envy longs for something or someone and is resentful for not having that thing or person.

Example:

I was green with envy with their success until I realized that I can also become successful if I would just search for opportunities and seize them.

15. Green Thumb

A person who has a green thumb can make plants grow well. He or she has skills useful in a garden.

Example:

Aunt Polly has a green thumb. She grows all the vegetables she cooks in her kitchen.

16. Grass is Always Greener on the Other Side of the Fence

It is true that grass is always greener on the other side of the fence if there are better opportunities and conditions elsewhere. If a person is told that grass is always greener on the other side of the fence, he/she is being told that his/her present situation is not good. He/she should go to other places to make things well.

Example:

She knew that grass is always greener on the other side of the fence so she switched careers.

17. Out of the Blue

Something comes out of the blue if it comes suddenly. Also, someone who does things out of the blue catches people by surprise with his or her actions.

Example:

Out of the blue, she left the house and never came back again.

18. Blue Blood

Somebody has blue blood if he or she belongs to the royal family, has aristocratic origins, or is extravagantly rich.

Example:

The commoner married the prince with blue blood.

19. Black and Blue

A person who is black and blue is bruised, badly bruised.

Example:

Her family could not recognize her after she was found black and blue inside her boyfriend’s car.

20. Blackmail

Bad people blackmail by asking money from a person in exchange for not doing something damaging to that person. Blackmailing is a form of extortion and threat.

Example:

The gangster blackmailed the minister with recorded phone conversations between him and his mistress.

21. Blacklist

When we blacklist a person, we include his or her name in a list of people to exclude in certain events. We usually include people’s names in our blacklist if these people have done wrong to us.

Example:

He was blacklisted in many schools. He has thrashed his classmates and teachers.

22. Black Sheep

A black sheep is a person who has brought shame to his or her family. He or she is basically not welcome in the family.

Example:

He was branded as a black sheep after he forced his father for his inheritance only to gamble it all away.

23. Black Market

A black market is a market where illegal and pirated goods are sold and bought. Many black markets operate covertly and without paying taxes to the government.

Example:

He bought guns and ammunitions in the black market.

24. With Flying Colors

An action was completed with flying colors if it had huge success.

Example:

They finished the course with flying colors after much hardwork.

25. Paint the Town Red

Someone paints the town red if he or she parties too hard. All that someone who paints the town red wants to have is good time.

Example:

She painted the town red after she broke up with her boyfriend.

26. Once in a Blue Moon

Something happens once in a blue moon if it hardly ever happens.

Example:

Not at all a hands-on father, he visits his kids only once in a blue moon.

27. Off-Color

Something is off-color if it is not the correct color. An action can also be off-color if it is done offensively.

Example:

The house was painted in an off-color of white. The painter made an off-color joke to the owners that their house looks like a hospital.

28. Chase Rainbows

We chase rainbows if we try to work to get something that is impossible for us to have. That thing may clearly be beyond our reach.

Example:

He is always chasing rainbows and thinking that he can earn millions from selling basketball cards.

29. Dyed-In-The-Wool

Something is dyed-in-the-wool if it is permanent, undeviating, or undying.

Example:

She is dyed-in-the-wool conceited. She always thinks she is right and forever the best.

30. A Gray Area

A gray area is a vague matter. It is not clearly defined. There are no rules to govern it. It does not fall into existing classifications of things. It is a tricky and complicated issue.

Example:

The issue about taxing the elderly was a gray area for the government. No other governments had so heavily taxed their old people.

Copyright © 2012 Kerlyn Bautista

All Rights Reserved

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Comments 7 comments

James Ferguson 2 years ago

I like the list. Well done. I'd add "Elephant in the room" to the list, particularly as I personally hear it much more frequently than White Elephant and so the two aren't confused.

(Example: Someone finally speaking up - usually after an obvious and important problem has been ignored like it doesn't exist): "Is everyone going to ignore the elephant in the room? If we don't fix X, then nothing else matters... " (X is the 'elephant in the room' of course).

It's something blatantly obvious and important to the discussion that is being ignored.


LupitaRonquillo profile image

LupitaRonquillo 3 years ago from Colorado

Learned a few things here, interesting hub!


teaches12345 profile image

teaches12345 4 years ago

You are doing ESL students are great service in posting this series. I enjoyed reading through the list as well. Voted up.


CWanamaker profile image

CWanamaker 4 years ago from Arizona

Great list! I haven't even heard of some of these.


Collisa profile image

Collisa 4 years ago from California

Very helpful hub for non-native American English speakers! Our American English is full of idioms, which must be so confusing if it's not one's first language. I had a Japanese roommate once, who told me she "jumped over" breakfast one morning, lol!


SkeetyD profile image

SkeetyD 4 years ago from Barbados

An enjoyable hub! Great work


chef-de-jour profile image

chef-de-jour 4 years ago from Wakefield, West Yorkshire,UK

Nice list. You've hit a purple patch recently with these hubs on idioms! Well done. My personal favourite (British English spelling!) is out of the blue. Thank you.

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