Blue moons, green thumbs & red carpets – these colourful phrases are a staple of our vocabulary. So much so that we are almost unconscious of how quirky a take on reality they are! For instance, do Prince Charles & his royal mum really have blue blood in their veins?
Unless royals are octopuses in disguise, we have every reason to believe that their blood is red. So where do these phrases come from? And do they have any basis in reality?
In this edition of our weekly Word Nerd, we are looking at 8 quirky phrases which colour our language. Enjoy!
1. Blue moon: The figure of speech is commonly used in “once in a blue moon. . .” which indicates a rare occurrence. As rare as a second full moon in a calendar month, because that’s what a blue moon is!
2. Blue blood: The colour blue has a link to aristocracy and privilege. Royalty is blue-blooded while Oxford and Cambridge are known as blue-brick universities.
The term ‘blue-blood’ is said to have come from the Spanish ‘sangre azul’.
When Spain was ruled by Moors, the Castilian nobles refused to intermarry – thus retaining an extremely fair and translucent complexion, through which their veins were visible.
This idea became popular throughout Europe. And European royalty, with its abhorrence for tanning, came to be known as blue-blooded.
3. Bluestocking: The term was derogatory, and used for men and women who wore blue-wool worsted stockings, not the black silk numbers fashionable in 18th century England.
Later, blue-stocking also meant individuals who attended literary salons. By time Queen Victorian came to rule, it meant women who had literary and intellectual pursuits. Such women were considered frumpy and unattractive.
4. Green thumb (US) or green fingers (UK): While we suggest you see a doctor if you have green extremities, the terms are a compliment for someone with a gift for gardening.
It is speculated that handling algae encrusted pots turned fingers and thumbs green, and this is how the term originated.
5. Purple prose: Here’s a great definition of purple prose by Jessica Page Morrell, “In purple prose, skin is always creamy, eyelashes are always glistening, heroes always brooding, and sunrises always magical. Purple prose also features an abundance of metaphors and figurative language, long sentences and abstractions.”
In other words, prose which is ornate and flowery to the point of silliness.
Why purple? Horace, one of the finest ancient poets, referred to “grand declarations” and “weighty openings” as “purple patches” in his Ars Poetica (The Art of Poetry).
6. Pink-slip: A metonym for being fired. Apparently in the US, musical shows were issued cancellation notices on pink slips. This was early in the 20th The phrase has become well-entrenched in the language since then.
7. Blackmail: In the mid-16th century, border dwellers in north England had to pay tribute in the form of goods or labour to Scottish raiders. This tribute staved off raids. And it was the origin of blackmail.
Any interesting phrases which are quirky, colourful and a part of your daily vocabulary? Leave a comment or email us.
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