11 Great Color Legends

11 Great Color Legends


Some colors become huge successes early on and then fade off into obscurity... while other colors go the distance and become international icons. Here we look at 11 of the great color legends... Stop Sign Red, Horny Green M&Ms, Black Death, Blue Sky...

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 We've posted Part II of the Color Legends Series, 13 More Great Color Legends


Why is Red the International Color for Stop?

Red Stop Sign
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Stop signs originated in Detroit, Michigan in 1915. The first had black letters on a white background and were somewhat smaller than the modern one. In 1924, the sign changed to black on yellow. In 1954 the US Federal Highway Administration (FHA) published the The Manual on Uniform Traffic Control Devices (MUTCD). It was in this manual that the stop sign was standardized as red with white type.

The color coding for stop goes a bit further back. Red became a color connected with stop when the first primitive railroad signaling devices were developed in the 1830s and 1840s. Inittialy red meant "stop," green meant "caution," and clear (i.e., white) meant "go." They later figured out that Go as a white lead was problomatic when confused with other lights.

 

Why is the US Dollar Green?

Green Dollar
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The dollar (often represented by the dollar sign: "$") is the name of the official currency in several countries, dependencies and other regions. In this instance we are referring to the US Dollar.

The first general circulation of paper money by the federal government occurred in 1861. Pressed to finance the Civil War, Congress authorized the U.S. Treasury to issue non-interest-bearing Demand Notes. These notes acquired the nickname "greenback" because of their color.

When the small currency notes in use today were first introduced in 1929, the Bureau of Engraving and Printing (BEP) continued using green ink. There were three reasons for this decision. First, pigment of that color was readily available in large quantity. Second, the color was high in its resistance to chemical and physical changes. Finally, the public psychologically identified the color green with the strong and stable credit of the Government. There is no definite reason green was chosen originally for our currency notes.

Not All Green Anymore...
The most noticeable difference in the new designs is the introduction of subtle background colors, which makes it more burdensome for potential counterfeiters because it adds complexity to the note. The addition of color also makes it easier to distinguish between denominations because different background colors are used for each denomination.

"Despite the addition of color, the redesigned notes preserve the distinct size, look and feel of traditional American currency – the world's most familiar and circulated currency."

 

Why is Pink a Girl Color and Blue a Boy Color?

Pink Girls Blue Boys
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According to the website "Gender Specific Colors," it would seem that assigning color to gender is mostly a 20th century trait. It would also seem that at one time, the color associations were reversed when color first came into use as a gender identifier.

In fact, this reversal of what we consider "normal" was considered conventional, even in the early 20th century.

"At one point pink was considered more of a boy's color, (as a watered-down red, which is a fierce color) and blue was more for girls. The associate of pink with bold, dramatic red clearly affected its use for boys. An American newspaper in 1914 advised mothers, "If you like the color note on the little one's garments, use pink for the boy and blue for the girl, if you are a follower of convention." [The Sunday Sentinal, March 29, 1914.]

"There has been a great diversity of opinion on the subject, but the generally accepted rule is pink for the boy and blue for the girl. The reason is that pink being a more decided and stronger color is more suitable for the boy, while blue, which is more delicate and dainty, is prettier for the girl." [Ladies Home Journal, June, 1918]

According to Jo B. Paoletti and Carol Kregloh, "The Children's Department," in Claudia Brush Kidwell and Valerie Steele, ed., Men and Women: Dressing the Part, (Smithsonian Institution Press, 1989). - In the United States: "The current pink for girls and blue for boys wasn't uniform until the 1950's.

 

Why are Republicans Red and Democrats Blue?

Red States Blue States
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Prior to the 2000 presidential election, there was no universally recognized color scheme to represent political parties in the US. Color-based schemes became widespread with the adoption of color television in the 1960s and nearly ubiquitous with the advent of color in newspapers. A three-color scheme -- red, white and blue, the colors of the U.S. flag -- makes sense, and the third color, white, is useful in depicting maps showing states that are "undecided" in the polls and in election-night television coverage.

Early on, the most common—though again, not universal—color scheme was to use red for Democrats and blue for Republicans. This was the color scheme employed by NBC—David Brinkley famously referred to the 1984 map showing Reagan's 49-state landslide as a "sea of blue", but this color scheme was also employed by most newsmagazines. CBS during this same period, however, used the opposite scheme—blue for Democrats, red for Republicans. ABC was less consistent than its elder network brothers; in at least two presidential elections during this time before the emergence of cable news outlets, ABC used yellow for one major party and blue for the other. As late as 1996, there was still no universal association of one color with one party.

But in 2000, for the first time, all major media outlets used the same colors for each party: Red for Republicans, blue for Democrats. Partly as a result of this first-time universal color-coding, the terms Red States and Blue States entered popular usage in the weeks following the 2000 presidential election. Additionally, the closeness of the disputed election kept the colored maps in the public view for longer than usual, and red and blue thus became fixed in the media and in many people's minds.[2] Journalists began to routinely refer to "blue states" and "red states" even before the 2000 election was settled. After the results were final, journalists stuck with the color scheme, such as The Atlantic's cover story by David Brooks in the December 2001 issue entitled, "One Nation, Slightly Divisible." Thus red and blue became fixed in the media and in many people's minds despite the fact that no "official" color choices had been made by the parties.

The choice of colors in this divide is counter-intuitive to many international observers, as throughout the world, red is commonly the designated color for parties representing labor, communist, and/or liberal interests[5][6], which in the United States would be more closely correlated with the Democratic Party. Similarly, blue is used in these countries to depict conservative parties which in the case of the United States would be a color more suitable for the Republicans. For example, in Canada party colours are deeply ingrained and historic and have been unchanged during the Twentieth Century. The Liberal Party of Canada has long used red and the Conservative Party of Canada has long used blue, and in fact the phrases Liberal red and Tory blue are a part of the national lexicon, as is Red Tory, denoting Conservative members who are social moderates. Similarly, the symbol of Britain's Labour Party is a red rose (and the socialist song 'The Red Flag' is still sung at party conferences), while the British Conservatives are traditionally associated with the colour blue. However, in the United States the term "blue collar" is applied to working people and may be associated with organized labor, which is generally supportive of the Democratic Party.

 

Why is the Green M&M the Horny One?

Horny Green M&M
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Mars Company has been producing M&M Chocolate Candies since 1941. Various rumors have since been attached to different colors of the candy: the green ones are an aphrodisiac; if the last candy out of a bag is red, make a wish and it will come true; if the last candy out of a bag is yellow, you should call in sick and stay home; orange M&Ms are good luck, but brown ones are bad luck. M&M/MARS notes that all these rumors were developed by consumers, not the company.

The rumor that these green candies are an aphrodisiac apparently started or first gained prominence in the 1970s, when students reportedly picked the green ones out of packages to feed to the objects of their desires.

(At that time, an average of 10% of plain M&Ms and 20% of peanut M&Ms were green.) Why the green M&Ms were attributed with this power is unknown; perhaps it was because the color green has always been associated with healing and fertility. (The company itself routinely states that they "cannot explain any extraordinary 'powers' attributed to [green M&Ms], either scientifically or medically"; the same "powers" have also been claimed of green jelly beans and gummi

1992, a California lawyer named Wendy Jaffe cashed in on the legend and started a company named Cool Chocolates Inc. Her company's sole product was a green M&M-like candy sold under the name "The Green Ones." M&M/MARS claimed trademark infringement (in part because the characters on The Green Ones' packages were quite similar to the trademarked M&M cartoon figures), and as part of a settlement Ms. Jaffe agreed to change the name and packaging of her product. (Her candy was subsequently sold under the name "Greenies.") M&M/MARS started playing on the common image of green M&Ms with an "Is it true what they say about green ones?" advertising campaign in 1996.

 

Why is Purple a Lesbian Color?

Lesbian Purple
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The color purple (or, more accurately, lavender) became popularized as a symbol for pride in the late 1960s - a frequent post-Stonewall catchword for the gay community was "Purple Power".

Purple as a gay / lesbian color was pushed into pop-culture in 1999 by Rev. Jerry Falwell and his kinky Tinky Winky theory. Falwell said that Tinky Winky, the TV Teletubby from Itsy Bitsy Entertainment and PBS, is in all likelihood gay.

Why? Like Barney, Tinky Winky is purple. Tinky Winky carries a bag. Tinky Winky has a triangular antenna on his head. Purple, the gay pride color, is a pretty good tip-off. The so-called magic bag? A purse, and you know what that means. But the triangular antenna is the clincher. A big gay pride signal.

Whenever I see someone wearing a triangular antenna on his head, the first thing I always think is: gay. Or at least very happy.

 

Why is Black the Color of Death?

Black Death
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Studies have shown most colors have more positive than negative associations, and even when a color has negative association, it is normally only when used in a particular context.

Black is often seen as the 'color' of death in Western culture. This is likely because when things die the rotting flesh will turn black, and it is also the color of wood after fire has completely consumed it. Black is also the 'color' of the unknown, since darkness hinders vision.

The initial fourteenth-century European event was called the 'Great Mortality' by contemporary writers and, with later outbreaks, became known as the 'Black Death'. It has been popularly thought that the name came from a striking symptom of the disease, called acral necrosis, in which the sufferers' skin would blacken due to subdermal hemorrhages. However, the term refers in fact to the figurative sense of 'black' (glum, lugubrious or dreadful).

The Black Death, or Black Plague, was one of the most devastating pandemics in human history. It began in south-western Asia and spread to Europe by the late 1340s, where it received its name Black Death. The total number of deaths worldwide from the pandemic is estimated at 75 million people. The Black Death is estimated to have killed between a third and two-thirds of Europe's population.

People in many cultures have an automatic negative perception of the color black. Thomas Gilovich and Mark Frank found that sports teams with primarily black uniforms were significantly more likely to receive penalties in historical data. Students were more likely to infer negative traits from a picture of a player wearing a black uniform. They also taped staged football matches, with one team wearing black and another wearing white. Experienced referees were more likely to penalize black-wearing players for nearly identical plays. Finally, groups of students tended to prefer more aggressive sports if wearing black shirts themselves.

 

Why is the Sky Blue?

Blue Sky
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The first thing to recognize is that the sun is an extremely bright source of light -- much brighter than the moon. The second thing to recognize is that the atoms of nitrogen and oxygen in the atmosphere have an effect on the sunlight that passes through them.

There is a physical phenomenon called Rayleigh scattering that causes light to scatter when it passes through particles that have a diameter one-tenth that of the wavelength (color) of the light. Sunlight is made up of all different colors of light, but because of the elements in the atmosphere the color blue is scattered much more efficiently than the other colors.

So when you look at the sky on a clear day, you can see the sun as a bright disk. The blueness you see everywhere else is all of the atoms in the atmosphere scattering blue light toward you. (Because red light, yellow light, green light and the other colors aren't scattered nearly as well, you see the sky as blue.)

 

Why are Road Signs Green?

Green Road Sign
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The 1954 15-page supplement to the 1948 Manual on Uniform Traffic Control Devices (MUTCD) included 47 revisions and a brief description of each. The 1954 manual represented the shift from using mainly regulatory and warning signs on interstate highways to including guide signs. This manual also adopted the use of white letters on green background for Interstate highways.

The North American road sign colors normally have these meanings:

* green with white letters for informational signs, such as directions, distances, and places
* brown with white for signs to parks, historic sites, ski areas, forests, and campgrounds
* blue with white for rest areas, food, gasoline or petrol, and lodging
* white with red or black letters for regulatory signs, such as speed limits or parking
* yellow with black letters and symbols for warning signs, such as curves and school zones
* orange with black letters for temporary traffic control zones and detours

 

St. Patricks's Green?

St. Patrick Green

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Although Saint Patrick's Day has the colour green as its theme, one little known fact is that blue was once the colour associated with this day.

The original colour of St. Patrick's Day was not green, but blue. It wasn't until the 19th century that green became Ireland's national colour and eventually the colour of St. Patrick's Day because of its association with the shamrock, springtime and the Emerald Isle.

Saint Patrick's Day, colloquially St. Paddy's Day or Paddy's Day, is the feast day which annually celebrates Saint Patrick (385–461), one of the patron saints of Ireland, on March 17, the day on which Saint Patrick died. The day is the national holiday of the Irish people. It is a Bank Holiday in Northern Ireland, and a public holiday in the Republic of Ireland, Montserrat, and the Canadian province of Newfoundland and Labrador. In the rest of Canada, Australia, the United Kingdom and the United States, it is widely celebrated but is not an official holiday.

Saint Patrick's Day is celebrated worldwide by Irish people and increasingly by many of non-Irish descent (usually in Australia, North America, and Ireland), hence the phrase, "Everyone wants to be Irish on St. Patrick's Day." Celebrations are generally themed around all things green and Irish; both Christians and non-Christians celebrate the secular version of the holiday by wearing green, eating Irish food and/or green foods, imbibing Irish drink, and attending parades.

 

Why is Raising a White Flag the Symbol for Surrender?

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White Flag of Surrender
The white flag is an internationally recognized protective sign of truce or ceasefire, and request for negotiation. It is also used to symbolise surrender, since it is often the weaker military party which requests negotiation. A white flag signifies to all that an approaching negotiator is unarmed, with an intent to surrender or a desire to communicate. Persons carrying or waving a white flag are not to be fired upon, nor are they allowed to open fire. The use of the flag to surrender is included in the Geneva Conventions.

The first mention of the usage of white flags to surrender is made during from the Eastern Han dynasty (A.D 25-220). In the Roman Empire, the historian Cornelius Tacitus mentions a white flag of surrender in A.D. 109. Before that time, Roman armies would surrender by holding their shields above their heads. The usage of the white flag has since spread worldwide.

 
Sources
http://www.cs.cmu.edu/afs/cs.cmu.edu/user/scotts/bulgarians/rainbow-flag.html
http://www.sfgate.com/cgi-bin/article.cgi?file=/chronicle/archive/1999/02/11/MN93178.DTL
http://www.lambda.org/symbols.htm
http://www.snopes.com/risque/aphrodisiacs/mandms.asp
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Red_state_vs._blue_state_divide
http://answers.google.com/answers/threadview?id=238733
http://www.dressmaker.com/ezine0200.shtml
http://histclo.hispeed.com/gender/color.html
http://www.moneyfactory.gov/newmoney/main.cfm/currency/aboutNotes?CFID=811634
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Dollar
http://www.treas.gov/education/faq/currency/production.shtml#q3
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Flag_of_surrender
http://www.ottawaplus.ca/feature/st_patrick/103/history_lore.jsp
http://www.answers.com/topic/what-is-the-connection-between-the-color-green-and-st-patrick-s-day-1
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Saint_Patrick's_Day
http://mutcd.fhwa.dot.gov/kno-history.htm
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Traffic_sign
http://math.ucr.edu/home/baez/physics/General/BlueSky/blue_sky.html
http://science.howstuffworks.com/question39.htm
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Black_plague
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Color_Symbolism
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Stop_sign
http://www.straightdope.com/classics/a2_152.html

 


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15 Comments
Showing 1 - 15 of 15 Comments

despise

one of my favorite articles so far. I learned some interesting things I didn't know about.

winterblue

I'd have to agree.

ms

i think an interesting name for a color would be biker black (somewhat faded and wind-torn).

velveteen

I knew that pink used to be a boy's color in some Asian cultures, but I didn't know it was in the US. :D

I really like this article. :D

collistaeed

A really fantastic read, I hope it brings oodles of traffic to love colour!

kirill

Interesting facts. I also tried to topu together some information about the use of color, but specifically for webpage design. You may want to take a look at the issues in the area "modern color trends" here http://www.crossmind.net/cnt/issue/issue.php

vertigo25

I remember when I was kid how the green M&Ms started becoming "popular," and then moved in to being the "horny" ones.

I remember hearing that the band Van Halen requested bowls of *only* green M&Ms in their dressing room, and that one of them was later asked about the significance, and he replied that they made you horny.

This is all from memory, of course... but I always thought that was the origin.

hober

A somewhat more obscure, yet long-lived color use: British possessions are almost always shaded a specific light pink on maps.

lizcrimson

wonderful, wonderful. i love this stuff. what great fun!

superflippy

Actually, lavender has been a color associated with gays or effeminate men since the early 1900's: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Lavender_(color)
This is the first I've heard of its being specific to lesbians.

FeaturePics Images

I wonder why the color Pink has not been accepted in messages that big companies address to women.
http://www.featurepics.com/editorial/female-orientation-in-web-design.aspx

Maybe they think or know it is not a women's favorite color????

CherryBomb

Adding to what hober wrote: Green was for France, yellow for Italy, and purple for Portugal, etc. On old maps of the world, where colonial powers held large blocs of land, it is easy to see. Modern maps obviously cannot color every country in central Africa green, but they follow the tradition when possible. (Angola and Mozambique are usually purple, Somalia is yellow.)

suchprettycolors

great post. just wanted to say that lavender is commonly seen as associated with lesbians, within the lesbian community, anyway. and has been for a long time...it was well established when I first became familiar with the community in the early 1990s.

koala988

Very very interesting! It's true. I never really thought of why pink meant girls and blue meant boys, or why red means stop...it's just always been there. And now it's nice to know exactly why!
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