In this article, we will explore some Italian expressions which contain colour terms and we will discuss the symbolic and emotional meanings attached to them.
Colour terms have been at the centre of a linguistic debate for decades. On the one hand, the universalistic side, represented by Berlin and Kay (1969), claims that the basic colour terms of any culture are predictable by the number of colour terms a culture has, following this implicational scale:
Stage I: Dark-cool and light-warm
Stage II: Red
Stage III: Either green or yellow
Stage IV: Both green and yellow
Stage V: Blue
Stage VI: Brown
Stage VII: Purple, pink, orange, or gray
On the other hand, the relativistic side (Saunders and Van Brakel 1997) states that colour terms vary across languages depending on culture-specific phenomena.
As Fresu (2010) notes, symbols tend to be associated only to basic colour terms. Let’s have a look at them in more detail.
BLACK usually represent negative feelings, pessimism, cruelty and death.
Vedere tutto nero: to be pessimistic.
Essere incazzato nero: to be really pissed off (literally: “to be black pissed off”).
Essere la pecora nera: to be the black sheep.
Cronaca nera: crime news.
WHITE often refers to neutrality and lack of something.
Passare la notte in bianco: not to sleep at night.
Andare in bianco: to fail, often referred to sex.
Mosca bianca: something very rare (literally: “white fly”)
Settimana bianca: a ski holiday (literally: “white week”).
Mangiare in bianco: to eat food without sauces or dressings.
RED can evoke different concepts: energy, danger, risk, emergencies, strong emotions and transgression.
A luci rosse: red light, concerning sex.
Andare in rosso: to overdraw.
Vedere rosso: to be angry (literally: “to see red”).
The Italian word referring to YELLOW (GIALLO) is lexicalized to define mystery novels and films. This is due to the fact that the series of mystery novels designed by Lorenzo Montano and published by Arnaldo Mondadori from 1929 onwards had a yellow cover.
GREEN evokes nature, but also a service which is free of charge.
Avere il pollice verde: to have a green thumb.
Numero verde: a toll-free number (literally “green number”).
Essere al verde: to be broke (literally “to be on the green”).
PINK and BLUE are tied to the female and the male semantic area, respectively.
Vedere tutto rosa: to be optimistic (literally “to see everything pink”).
Romanzo rosa: a romantic novel, chick lit (literally “pink novel”).
Principe azzurro: charming prince (literally “blue prince”).
Finally, let’s have a look at some MULTICOLOURED expressions!
Farne di tutti i colori: to be up to all sorts of things (literally “to make things of all colours”).
Dirne di tutti i colori: to call somebody every name under the sun (literally “to say things of all colours”).
Do you know other expressions with colour terms? If yes, write them in the comments below!