Idiomatic expressions with COLOURS in Italian: How many do you know?

Cesare Pavese said “Every new morning, I’ll go out on the streets looking for colours.” In fact, colours are good for your life, they cheer it up and fill it. Everyone can notice the benefits of taking a walk in the green nature. There are many ways to add more colour to your daily life through little things, such as clothes, lipstick, flowers, etc. What if their positive power concerned your tongue too? If you could paint reality just by speaking? In Italian there are many idiomatic expressions related to colour!

Idioms with COLOURS in Italian

1 – “Passare la notte in bianco” (to have a sleepless night)

This expression means “to not be able to sleep all night”. This meaning comes from the Middle Ages and, precisely, from the fact that, at the time, when a person was going to be invested as a knight, they had to stay up all the night before the investiture, wearing a white dress as a sign of purity.

For example:

– Are you ok? You’re so pale…
– Don’t talk about it… I’ve just had a sleepless night… Because my son didn’t stop crying… As soon as I get home, sleep will overcome me on the couch!

2 – “Essere nero” (to be blind with rage)

What do they mean when they say they are very “black”? Well, it means that they are very angry, furious! So, be careful!

For example:

– Good morning, Sir, yesterday’s customer wants to know if you can meet him today…
– No, listen, today cancel all the appointments! I don’t want to talk with anybody! I’m furious! I’ve just found out that our rivals made an important deal!

3 – “Essere al verde” (to be broke)

Generally, green is the colour which represents hope, good omen, but this expression related to green colour is not optimistic at all! If someone is broke, they have no money.

So, why “green”? It seems that the meaning of this expression comes from an old tradition: to paint the bottom of candles with green. So, when a candle got to the green bottom, it was consumed.

For example:

– Have you heard of Paolo? He’s been broke since he resigned…
– Poor him! He was sure he would find a better job, but actually he’s still unemployed…

4 – “Avere il sangue blu” (to have blue blood)

This expression is used to refer to people of aristocratic descent. But why “blue”? Well, the choice of this colour is not clear, but there’s a quite convincing theory. It seems that, since they never exposed to the sun (differently from lower classes who worked in the countryside), aristocratic people’s skin was very fair and you could easily see the veins, blue-coloured.

For example:

– Antonella is really unpleasant: she behaves like a star or a princess, having not even a drop of blue blood.
– Yes, you’re so right! I don’t know how Sergio can stand her!

5 – “Avere il pollice verde” (to have green fingers)

This expression has a quite clear meaning: it is used to talk about a person who’s keen on gardening, growing and taking care of plants, flowers or a vegetable garden.

But why “green”? Well, the green colour, on the thumb in this case, is due to the hand’s contact with plants when you’re not wearing gloves.

For example:

– The plant that my husband gave me for my birthday last week is already dead… I don’t know why…
– Oh, come on! You’re terrible! Definitely, you don’t have green fingers!

6 – “Essere rosso dalla vergogna” (to blush with shame)

This expression is easy to understand too: it just means that a person is very embarrassed, very ashamed. The use of the red colour is clear: when you’re ashamed, you tend to blush.

For example:

– After arguing with his brother in front of everyone, Roberto blushed with shame!
– I’m not surprised! They made such a fool of themselves…

7 – “Fare una settimana bianca” (to go on a ski-holiday)

What could it mean? Think of the white colour… what comes to your mind? Snow, of course! In fact, this idiom refers to a 6 or 7 days holiday in the mountains in winter, at a ski resort.

For example:

– This summer we didn’t manage to go on holiday, but I promise you that in winter we’ll go on a ski-holiday in the Dolomites!
– But I hate the mountains…

8 – “Essere verde dall’invidia” (to be green with envy)

This one is not difficult either! In fact, it simply means to be very envious. But why the green colour? Well, the feeling of envy is associated with green because the excess anger in our body stimulates the production of bile (a dangerous liquid produced by our body), green-coloured.

For example:

– I’m very satisfied with the new car I’ve bought! But have you noticed that when we passed in front of our friends they were all green with envy?
– Um… No, actually, I don’t think they noticed…
– Pfff…

9 – “Di punto in bianco” (from out of nowhere)

It means “all of the sudden”, “in an unexpected way”, “out of the blue”. This expression comes from the military world, where it referred to an artillery shot without elevation, horizontally, so from a position zero, not marked by any number, in white.

For example:

– We were talking about what we would do the day after and, out of the blue, she went away with no explanation.
– She’s always behaved rudely, but sometimes she crosses the line…

10 – “A luci rosse” (red-light)

It is said about something linked to sex or pornography (films, districts, books, etc…). But why the red colour and in particular the red lights? There are different theories, but the most accredited one is that in ancient times, in Amsterdam, prostitutes tried to catch the attention of fishermen coming to the city with a red-coloured cloth put on white lights, which otherwise were too soft to be noticed.

For example:

– Giorgio has been fired because his bosses found out that he watched red-light films during the working hours!
– Oh God, what a shame!

11 – “Mettere nero su bianco” (put down in black and white)

When do you put something down in back and white? When you write: black ink on white paper. In fact, this expression means “to write on paper” and it is generally used for agreements, contracts, to avoid misunderstandings, revocations or waivers between the parts.

For example:

– So, Massimo’s company has accepted to provide us with raw material for the production.
– Yes, but I don’t trust him: I prefer to put everything down in black and white, since they’ve often changed their minds at the last minute.

12 – “Dirne di tutti i colori” (to say all sorts of things)

“Say things of all the colours” means to say “all sorts of things”, so the entire expression means to talk about someone or something in a negative way, saying all sorts of things, often bad about them. Why “all colours”? Well, because there’s a wide choice of negative things to say (just like colours) and you can choose all of them!

For example:

– Now that Massimo and Stefania divorced, she says all sorts of things about him.
– This means to bite the hand that fed you!

13 – “Vedere tutto nero” (to see everything black)

What is the colour black associated with? (Apart from elegance, obviously…) It is usually linked to very sad things like grief, death, negativity… That’s why this expression means “to be pessimistic”, to see everything in a negative way, from all the points of view.

For example:

– Oh my God, it’s too late!  I’ll definitely miss my train, I’ll arrive very late at the meeting and they’ll fire me…
– Don’t worry and stop seeing everything black!

14 – “Vedere tutto rosa” (to see life through rose-coloured glasses)

While black is usally asssociated with something negative and sad, rose is seen as the colour of children, serenity and joy, that’s why, if you see everything through rose-coloured glasses, it means that you are an optimist, that you always manage to find a positive side in each situation.

For example:

– Shit! I’ll never be able to finish this project before the deadline and I’ll lose my job!
– No! I’ll help you! We’ll spend entire nights working and you’ll see that it will be a success!
– You see life through rose-coloured glasses! Wish I had a grain of your optimism!

15 – “Avere una fifa blu” (to be in a blue funk)

This expression means to be so fearful that your face becomes so pale that it looks bluish, typical of an anxious state.

For example:

– He scraped his father’s car and now he’s in a blue funk and doesn’t have the nerve to go home.
– Why?
– Because his father really cares about that car.

16 – “Fare/Dare un assegno in bianco” (to give a blank cheque)

To give someone a blank cheque means to give it to them without putting the amount of money or the beneficiary. In fact, if it is white, it means that it hasn’t been marked by the pen’s black ink.

For example:

– To show how he cares about the cause, the president of the association gave us a blank cheque, so we can ask for as much as we want.
– Wow… it was very generous from him…

17 – “Cronaca rosa vs nera” (gossip magazines vs. crime news)

Once again, rose and black, with the same meanings you’ve just seen! In fact, if you read the gossip column in the newspaper, it means that you’re reading articles about the private life of celebrities, especially their love life.

If you read crime news instead, then you are reading articles concerning crimes, murders, bloodshed news.

For example:

– I love reading gossip magazines, while my husband prefers crime news. So we always buy very different magazines.
– Well, that’s normal: usually men don’t care about other people’s love life…

If you love idioms, then don’t miss another very interesting lesson about the Italian expressions with CI. And, since we’ve just talked about colours, you could have a look at the lesson on clothes and colours in Italian.

Let’s see if you’ve mastered the contents of this class. Have a go at completing the exercises!

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