10 English Idioms with Color

English Idioms with Color

Are you ready to learn some colorful English idioms?

Enjoy this lesson with 10 idiomatic expressions based on color!

red tape

“Red tape” refers to complicated, inefficient bureaucracy that stops things from getting done. For example, if you’re trying to open a company, but all the rules and documents make the process very difficult, you could say:

“It took me 10 months to open my company because of all the red tape.”

You can remember this idiom because red is a color that often means “stop,” and tape is an item that holds things in one place.

red-carpet treatment

When a celebrity or someone very important arrives, it’s common to use a special red carpet for that person to walk on:

English Idioms with Color

So giving people extra-special treatment is called giving the red-carpet treatment or rolling out the red carpet. 

green thumb

The color green is often associated with plants and nature. If a person has a green thumb, it means they have a great ability to make plants grow:

My aunt has quite the green thumb – she grows all her own vegetables in her garden.

give the green light

When a traffic light turns green, it means “go”:

English Idioms with Color

So if you are working on a project and your boss gives you the green light, it means he gives his permission or approval for the project to proceed.

out of the blue

If something happens out of the blue, it means it happens completely unexpectedly. For example, imagine you have an old friend who hasn’t contacted you in a very long time – and then one day, you get a letter from her. You might say:

I hadn’t heard from Jennifer in years – and then she contacted me out of the blue.

until you are blue in the face

This idiom means for a very long time. It comes from the fact that if you hold your breath for an extremely long time, the lack of oxygen makes the skin on your face turn blue. Let’s say you’re arguing politics with your brother, and you strongly oppose his views. You could say:

You can argue until you’re blue in the face, but I’m still not going to agree with you.


This expression means to make your own lunch at home and bring it to work (or to another place) – instead of buying food at a restaurant. The idiom comes from the brown paper bags that are often used to pack lunches:

English Idioms with Color

Here’s an example sentence:

Brown bagging your lunch can save you thousands of dollars per year.

white knuckle

The joints between your fingers and the palm of your hand are called knuckles (the first “k” is silent!):

If you hold onto something extremely tightly, your knuckles turn white. So if you “white knuckle” something, it means you survive an extremely stressful experience.

For example, if you took a taxi through a dangerous area, and the driver was going very fast and out of control, you would be nervous that the car might crash. Afterwards, you could say:

That sure was a white knuckle ride!

grey area

The color grey is a mix between black and white – it is a color that is in the middle of these two extremes. If something is described as a grey area, it means that it is ambiguous or not well defined. Sometimes people describe complex moral or ethical issues as “grey areas” if there are no clear or obvious answers.

pot calling the kettle black

If there’s a situation in which Person A is accusing or attacking Person B for something that also applies to person A, we say that’s the pot calling the kettle black. 

For example, let’s say there’s a man named John who is always late for work. One day, John’s colleague David arrives late, and John yells at him for being late. That is “the pot calling the kettle black,” because John is guilty of the same thing!

pot is a metal instrument used to cook food, and a kettle is used to heat up water for tea. In the past, both of these items were usually black:

English Idioms with ColorImage source

That’s why “the pot calling the kettle black” is used to describe one person criticizing another person for a characteristic that they both share.

*Except where noted, all images are from FreeDigitalPhotos.net

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