What the Colour Blue Means

what the colour blue means

Be it the cushions for the living room or that new winter jumper, ever wondered why you are attracted to some colours more than others? And every wondered why your preferences change over a lifetime, or even in the space of a day?

Our appreciation of colour is entirely perception-based. Colours are known to hold different subliminal associations and to trigger certain responses. And as we know, perceptions can vary from person to person, but also from one culture to another.

The marketing industry spends a lot of time looking at colour. Want to know more about colours and what they communicate? So what does the colour blue mean? Here are ten things you maybe never knew about blue.

1. Want a consensus? Choose blue

Blue is recognised as a calm colour by the marketing industry and probably the most chosen colour choice when it comes to products and services, as it neutrally evokes little sentiment either way.

Think of the United Nations and European Union logos. Blue speaks to bringing people together around a common goal.

With tranquility comes trust. That’s why so many companies (for example IBM, Facebook, Twitter, Visa, PayPal) also use blue in their logos and advertising.

In fact, blue is also used in therapies for people people who have brain disorders or who are emotionally troubled. It is known to lower respiration and blood pressure.

2. Blue never used to exist!

Blue wasn’t always a colour?

What? Mind. Blown. Of course blue has always been a colour, I hear you cry.

But, no. Nowadays we recognise blue as one of the three primary colours, but during Antiquity only white, red and black were considered as real colours. Ancient Greek texts never mention the colour blue, with notably Homer’s Odyssey referring to the ocean as ‘wine-dark’.

Now there’s a thought … a whole sea of wine!

3. It’s thanks to Newton we have blue!

Yellow, green and blue were mentioned infrequently in the Middle Ages, but it wasn’t until Isaac Newton’s experiments in the 17th Century, demonstrating that white light comprises a spectrum of coloured rays, that blue was recognised as a colour in its own right.

4. Not everyone can see blue

Can’t they?

Remember we said that appreciation of colour is entirely perception based?

Well, other philological studies have shown that ancient Icelandic, Hindu, Chinese, Arabic and Hebrew texts also never mention the colour blue. Extrapolate that to not having a word for blue equating to not being able to see it and you have the basis for quite an interesting study.

This is exactly what a team from Goldsmiths University of London did in 2006. The Himba tribe in Namibia has no word for blue and makes no real distinction between green and blue. Members of the tribe were shown a circle with eleven green squares and one obviously blue square, but the Himba tribe struggled to pick out the blue square.

5. The Egyptians exported blue around the world

It is believed that the ancient Egyptians with their production of blue dyes started to export an awareness of the colour blue around the world.

6. Cobalt played its part too

Have you heard of the rare metal cobalt? Nowadays it is associated with mobile phones, laptops and rechargeable batteries, but this wasn’t always the case.

Helping to increase the popularity — and recognition — of blue, cobalt made its way to Europe in the Middle Ages and was used to colour glass for cathedral stained-glass windows, a colour that became known as the “bleu de Chartres”.

By the 17th century, the Chinese were also using it in blue-and-white porcelain, again widely exported to Europe.

7. Blue is lucky for some

For the Ancient Egyptians blue was associated with the sky and divinity and considered it therefore lucky. Similarly, Christians, with their new stained-glass windows, came to associate God with light and light as blue.

The association of the colour blue with luck is also made in China where the expression ‘Qing Niao’ literally translates as ‘blue bird’ and denotes a messenger who brings only good news.

8. It is largely down to Goethe (and maybe Chaucer) that we ‘feel blue’ when we are sad

Chaucer was maybe the first to link — in written form — the adjective ‘blue’ to tears associated to heartbreak.

This was formalised in the 19th century by the German writer, Johann Wolfgang von Goethe, who was one of the first people to research colour as a perceptual matter. Somewhat challenging Newton’s purely scientific analysis, Goethe offered the theory that colour analysis was entirely subjective, emotions emanating from colour and blues giving more ‘restless, susceptible and anxious impressions’.

9. Blue is the most common colour for Western clothing

Despite its absence in early historical periods, blue quickly became a very consensual colour choice, particularly in Europe as it became associated with both the Church and royalty. Later the association extended to the working classes (blue-collar workers) in Europe, as well as in China where the proletarian blue became a dominant colour under Mao’s rule.

Blue is now the most common colour for Western clothing and globally, according to studies, the most popular colour.

10. Watch out! Mosquitos like blue too!

If you live in a mosquito-ridden area, maybe blue shouldn’t be your go-to colour. Research shows that mosquitoes are attracted to dark colours, and especially blue!

So, there you have it, from a rank outsider (well, from not existing at all) to today’s most popular choice, blue has had an incredible journey.

What facts and nuggets of wisdom do you have when it comes to blue? And be sure to link into the other articles in this series below as we take a journey through the rainbow!

What the Colour Red Means

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