What the Colour Green Means

what the colour green means

We are surrounded by green, aren’t we? It is the colour of renewal and nature. In fact, as the colour with the largest number of recognised shades, it is often cited as the people’s choice … after blue.

You are probably well aware that our appreciation of colour is entirely perception-based and these perceptions can vary from person to person, but also from one culture to another.

Want to know more about colours and what they communicate? What does the colour green symbolise? Here are some things you maybe never knew about green.

1. A colour of hope

Green was a sacred colour to the ancient Egyptians. It representing the hope and joy of spring and as such, temple floors were green.

2. But you couldn’t trust green in the Middle Ages!

In the Middle Ages, green came to represent inconstancy, betrayal and unreliability. If you think of the biblical Judas, for example, he was often depicted wearing green. Some have suggested that this association may be linked to green plant dyes used at the time, which were rather unpredictable and often faded quickly.

3. The ancient Greeks thought jealousy turned your skin green!

Some sources suggest that linking jealousy to green dates back to the ancient Greeks, stemming from jealousy having been believed to cause an overproduction of bile and thus turning skin slightly green.

Shakespeare famously used the phrase ‘green-eyed jealousy’ in The Merchant of Venice, later personifying the emotion as the ‘green-eyed monster’ in Othello.

4. Green … or blue?

Whereas many ancient cultures had no word for blue, so was green not always a colour in Japan. Why was that? Well, green was considered a shade of blue. The word for blue, ‘ao,’ actually refers to more of a blue/green. In fact there are many green things today that the Japanese still refer to as ao.

5. Of all the colours the human eye is most sensitive to green

Green is used for night vision goggles as the eye is able to distinguish the most shades in that colour. Even people who are colourblind can show sensitivity to subtle green shades.

6. Disney invented a new green

A new shade of green was coined by Disney as ‘go away green.’ Maybe not that catchy but it does what it says on the tin. Go away green is a green colour combination with a brown/grey/green hue that your eye naturally wants to ignore. It is used to colour out backstage buildings and construction walls at the amusement park.

7. The French just love green herb-based elixirs

A Frenchman with the fabulous name, Dr Ordinaire, invented the famous herb-based elixir, Asbinthe which was commercialised in the 1700s and gained an international reputation amongst artists, writers and intellectuals. Promoted to cure anything from flatulence to anaemia, extensive drinking was quoted as having left some people blind.

Chartreuse, now a trendy yellow-green hue, also started out life as a herb-based drink, developed by Carthusian French monks and named after a mountain range in the Alps.

8. Jade and its medicinal beginnings …

Along with chartreuse, jade is another one of the many identified shades of green. Varying from bluish to yellowish green, it takes its name from the ornamental stone that is often used in carvings or jewellery.

Did you know that the name can be traced back to the Latin ‘ilia’? You may be surprised to know that ‘ilia’ means flanks or the kidney area, but those were the parts of the body that the stone was used to treat in ancient times.

9. Coca-Cola’s iconic green-glass bottle was a pure fluke

It is probably the single most famous piece of packaging to come out of the USA, but Coca-Cola’s famous green tinge happened by chance thanks to minerals present in the Fern Cliffs sand (Putnam County, IN) that was used when the bottles were first manufactured. In order to replicate the same effect, the company subsequently had to add artificial colouring during the manufacturing process.

10. Only one country has ever had a solid green flag

It doesn’t still have it today, but during recent history it did. Can you name it? Answer at the end.*

11. Green killed Napoleon?

Named after the German Swedish chemist, Carl Wilhelm Scheele, the mid 1770s saw the arrival of Scheele’s Green, a vibrant pigment used for wallpapers, candles, homeware and even clothing.

Unfortunately the delightful green pigment contained arsenic, leading to the deaths of many. Napoleon felt sure the English would get him, but in 2008, an Italian team tested strands of his hair from various points in his life and found arsenic levels roughly 100 times higher than the contemporary control group.

12. Green isn’t always the colour of money

We have all heard the term ‘greenbacks’ but where does it come from? In the 1860s, chemists figured out a way to make a more stable green ink and the US government printed new currency. They chose to print just one side of the bills with green ink to prevent counterfeiting since cameras of the day could only take black and white photographs. In 1929, when the government regularised the size and denomination of its currency, green ink was chosen for both sides because it was both plentiful and durable.

You may naturally link green to money and in North American stock markets, green is also used to indicate a rise in stock prices. However in China, green indicates a drop in stock prices and red a rise. Why? Because red is a lucky colour to the Chinese.

So, there you have it, that colour that we so spontaneously associate with nature, renewal, prosperity and progress has not always had such positive connotations, and may have even killed an Emperor!

Maybe you have other facts about green. Add them below! And don’t forget to check out the other articles in our journey through colour.

What the Colour Blue Means


And here’s that answer you may still be looking for …

*From 1977 to 2011, Libya had a plain green flag. It was changed for political reasons and the solid green flag was intended to represent the ‘Green Revolution’ to make Libya green again, bringing back farmland to create a new life for Libyans.

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