Vocabulary – 10 Expressions with Color Names!

*NOTE: In English, there are two spellings of the word colour. In American English, the word is spelled color. I have used the American spelling in this post because many of these expressions are used mainly in American English. Everywhere else (Canada, United Kingdom, Australia, etc.), the word is spelled colour.


(Photo by Sir Fish)

An English learner recently asked me on Facebook to define some expressions in English that include color names! For each phrase, I have included a headline from an online newspaper that includes the phrase so you can see how it’s used in context. Here are 10 phrases and idioms in English that use color names!


a black eye – (1) an eye injury; the bruise (dark area on skin) that results when someone is punched/hit in the eye; (2) idiom – dishonour or shame

Trayvon Martin case is a black eye for Sanford


to blackball (someone) (verb) – to prevent someone from joining a group by voting against him/her, or to prevent a project from being approved by voting against it

Experts blackball Brisbane tower project


to blackmail (verb) / blackmail (noun) – a crime; to threaten to tell someone’s secrets or harm them in some way unless that person gives you money or does what you want them to do

Man posed as footballer to blackmail girlfriend


a brownout – a period of time in which electricity going to a house or building is reduced, because the power company cannot produce enough electricity to meet demand

Davao City downtown area hit by brownout as electric post falls


a blackout – (1) a period of time when there is no electricity and therefore no lights or power; more severe than a brownout

a blackout – (2) a period of time when information is deliberately kept from the public (for example, a media blackout)

US soldier’s lawyer slams Afghan killings ‘blackout’


a green thumb – If someone is good at gardening and is able to make plants grow, that person has a green thumb!

Michelle Obama shows off her green thumb.


a pink slip (idiom) – an announcement or notice from an employer that an employee is being laid off (the employee’s job is ending, the employee is not needed anymore)

55 employees receive pink slip from Hutchinson Regional Medical Center


a red flag (idiom) – a warning sign; anything that lets you know something is wrong, there is a problem, or there is danger ahead

Facebook’s defensive Instagram M&A [merger and acquisition] raises red flag


red ink – A situation where an organization, business, or government is losing money (by spending more money than it is taking in) and accumulating debt; in the past, when a company was in debt it was written in red ink in the accounting books

Red ink plagues ethanol producers this year


a white elephant (idiom) – something (a possession, business venture, a building, etc.) that is useless and not very valuable, but that requires a lot of care and money, much more care and money than the thing is worth

Egypt’s military struggles with Sinai, its white elephant


7 Comments on Vocabulary – 10 Expressions with Color Names!

    • Melanie
      April 12, 2012 at 6:58 pm (4 years ago)

      That’s a great expression, Jesús!

      • Jesús
        April 13, 2012 at 5:37 am (4 years ago)

        Thank you Melanie, yours are great too, some of them I didn’t know…

        Keep up the good work!


  1. inyazserg
    April 13, 2012 at 2:38 pm (4 years ago)

    Thanks! Nice idioms! I`m interested at where and how did the “get a pink slip” appear?

  2. Calgary ESL
    April 13, 2012 at 6:12 pm (4 years ago)

    Wow, thanks. What about red necks? )))