The Origins of the Rose-Colored Glasses Idiom

All you have to do is put them on

Clouds at sunset with a pink tint
Van de Ven Mary / Getty Images

We all know that seeing something through rose-colored glasses means you see it as better than it really is, but did you ever wonder where this idiom originated? I was curious, so I checked it out.

I have had a favorite pair of Maui Jim sunglasses for more than 20 years. I wore them around my neck for the first 10, and then lost my croakie, the cord I wore around my neck that attached to my glasses, something especially important to have when riding in a boat or anywhere else near deep water.

When I could no longer let my sunglasses dangle from around my neck, I shoved them up on top of my head instead, or stuck them in a shirt pocket. Invariably, I would bend over to pick something up, and the sunglasses would fall off my head or out of my pocket, always landing on the lenses, of course, always scratching. They were a wreck.

For Christmas last year, Tim's niece, Katie, had my lenses replaced, a wonderful idea. The glasses are so old that Maui Jim no longer makes dark lenses in that shape. They had only rose available. My Maui Jim's, my favorite sunglasses, now have rose-colored lenses.

I am here to tell you that seeing the world through rose-colored glasses really does make the world a better place! The reds are incredibly red, the greens lush, the blues truly electric. Willy Wonka, eat your heart out.

I looked for the origin of this idiom, and had trouble finding it. Apparently, nobody who writes about rose-colored glasses has bothered to actually look through them.

Once you do, the origin is obvious. The best I could find was Wise Geek, but even that site didn't mention anything about what the world actually looks like through rose-colored glasses.

When you search the Internet for the origin, you will find references to the book, Tom Brown at Oxford, written by Thomas Hughes in 1861, also known as "Tom Brown's Schooldays." I don't know for sure that this is the first use of the term.

It's all I could find.

A more curious suggestion is that the term comes from the use of goggles on chickens to keep them from pecking feathers off each other. An article about chicken eyeglasses at states that "rose-colored lenses as the coloring is thought to prevent a chicken wearing them from recognizing blood on other chickens, which may increase the tendency for abnormal injurious behavior. They were mass-produced and sold throughout the United States as early as the beginning of the 20th century."

My own experience makes me skeptical of this, since my rose-colored glasses accentuate reds. Unless chickens see red differently than humans, my experiences tells me rose-colored glasses would make chickens see extra-luscious blood, and that is not only disturbing, it's contrary to our usage of the idiom.