Farbenfroh: Colorful Expressions - German Color Symbolism

Arrangement of colored pencils
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German Color Symbolism and Expressions

Every language has its own colorful expressions and symbolism, including German. But here we're talking about colorful (buntfarbenfroh) in a literal sense: expressions that contain grünrot,blauschwarzbraun, and other colors.

In English we can "feel blue," "be yellow," or "see red." In German these colors may or may not have the same meaning. In an earlier feature, Idioms: Talk like a German, I mentioned several blau idioms, because "blau" can have numerous meanings in German, including "drunk" or "black" (as in "black eye").

In Germany and Austria political parties are often identified by or associated with a specific color. Both the Austrian and German conservative parties are black (schwarz), while the socialists arered (rot). Various other political parties in German-speaking Europe are identified by other colors, and one political coalition is even called a "traffic-light" coalition (Ampelkoalition, i.e., red, yellow, green - SPD, FDP, Grüne).

Below, we expand on the color(ful) vocabulary theme to include a mix of several colors. This is a representative collection and is not meant to be exhaustive. It also leaves out expressions that are similar or the same in English, i.e., "rot sehen" (to see red), "die Welt durch eine rosa Brille sehen" (to see the world through rose colored glasses), etc. But it includes words that contain a color (eine Farbe), especially when the meaning varies from the English.

Colorful Expressions

Deutsch English
BLAU BLUE
blau anlaufen lassen to temper (metal)
das Blaue vom Himmel versprechen to promise the moon
blauer Montag a Monday off (usually for personal reasons); "St. Monday"
das Blaulicht (flashing) blue light (police)
BRAUN BROWN
braun werden to tan, get brown
der Braunkohl (curly) kale
die Braunkohle brown (bituminous) coal
GELB YELLOW
die gelbe Partei the "yellow party" (Free Democrats, FDP - Ger. political party)
die gelbe Post
WEB > Deutsche Post AG
the "yellow post" (office); mail service, as opposed to banking, telephone, and telegraph; yellow is the color of German mail boxes and postal vehicles
die Gelben Seiten the Yellow Pages

**Yellow (gelb) has no association with cowardice in German, as it does in English.

GRAU GRAY/GREY
alles grau in grau malen to paint everything black, be pessimistic
es graut; beim Grauen des Tages* dawn is breaking; at day-break
in grauer Ferne in the distant (indefinite) future
GRÜN GREEN
grüne Welle green wave (synchronized traffic lights)
die Grünen The Greens (Ger. political party)
im Grünen; bei Mutter Grün outdoors, in the open air
ROT RED
etwas rot anstreichen to mark something in red (as a special day, a "red letter day," etc.)
die Roten (pl) the Reds (socialists, SPD - Ger. political party)
roter Faden leitmotiv, theme (novel, opera, play, etc.)
rote Welle red wave (unsynchronized traffic lights - ironic humor)
SCHWARZ BLACK
schwarz Catholic, conservative (political); orthodox; illegal(ly)
schwarz CDU/CSU (Ger. political party)
schwarzarbeiten to work illegally (w/o paying taxes, etc.)
schwärzen; Schwärzer to smuggle; smuggler
schwarzfahren to ride without a ticket; stow away
ins Schwarze treffen to hit the bull's eye; hit the nail on the head
WEISS WHITE
weißbluten to bleed (someone) dry (money)
weiße Woche white sale (white week)
die Weißwurstgrenze (Mainlinie)** Germany's "Mason-Dixon Line" (north-south border)

* "Grauen" - as in "es graut mir" (it horrifies me) - is a different verb.

**"Weißwurstgrenze" refers to a type of Bavarian "white" sausage (Weißwurst)

Related Pages

Lesson 5 of our online German course for beginners.

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