Brewer's: Colour

(See Rank.)


Colours. A man of colour. A negro, or, more strictly speaking, one with negro blood. (See Colours.)

“There are three great classes: (1) the pure whites; (2) the people of colour; (3) negroes and mulattoes.” —Edwards: St. Domingo, i.


(1) Black:

In blazonry,
sable, signifying prudence, wisdom, and constancy. In art, signifying evil, falsehood, and error.

As a mortuary colour,
signifying grief, despair, death. (In the Catholic Church violet may be substituted for black).

In metals
it is represented by lead. In precious stones it is represented by the diamond.

In planets it stands for Saturn.

In heraldry
it is engraved by perpendicular and horizontal lines crossing each other at right angles.

(2) Blue:

In blazonry,
azure, signifying chastity, loyalty, fidelity. In art (as an angel's robe) it signifies fidelity and faith. In art (as the robe of the Virgin Mary) it signifies modesty. In art (in the Catholic Church) it signifies humility and expiation. As a mortuary colour it signifies eternity (applied to Deity), immortality (applied to man). In metals it is represented by tin.

In precious stones
it is represented by sapphire. In planets it stands for Jupiter.

In heraldry
it is engraved by horizontal lines.

(3) Green:

In blazonry,
vert, signifying love, joy, abundance. In art, signifying hope, joy, youth, spring (among the Greeks and Moors it signified victory). In church ornaments, signifying God's bounty, mirth, gladness, the resurrection.

In metals
it is represented by copper. In precious stones it is represented by the emerald. In planets it stands for Venus.

As a railway signal
it means caution, go slowly.

In heraldry
it is engraved from left to right.

(4) Purple:

In blazonry,
purpure, signifying temperance. In art, signifying royalty.

In metals
it is represented by quicksilver. In precious stones it is represented by amethyst. In planets it stands for Mercury.

In heraldry
it is engraved by lines slanting from right to left.

(5) Red:

In blazonry,
gules; blood-red is called sanguine. The former signifies magnanimity, and the latter, fortitude. In metals it is represented by iron (the metal of war).

In precious stones
it is represented by the ruby. In planets it stands for Mars.

In heraldry
it is engraved by perpendicular lines.

(6) White:

In blazonry,
argent; signifying purity, truth, innocence. In art, priests, Magi, and Druids are arrayed in white. Jesus after the resurrection should be draped in white.' As a mortuary colour it indicates hope.

In metals
it is represented by silver. In precious stones it is represented by the pearl. In planets it stands for Diana or the Moon.

In heraldry
it is engraved by shields left white.

(7) Yellow:

In blazonry
or signifying faith, constancy, wisdom, glory.

In modern art
or signifying jealousy, inconstancy, incontinence. In France the doors of traitors used to be daubed with yellow, and in some countries Jews were obliged to dress in yellow. In Spain the executioner is dressed in red and yellow.

In Christian art
Judas is arrayed in yellow; but St. Peter is also arrayed in golden yellow. In metals it is represented by gold.

In precious stones
it is represented by the topaz. In planets it stands for Apollo or the Sun.

In heraldry
it is engraved by dots.
Colours for Church Decoration

White, for festivals of our Lord, for Easter, and for all saints except martyrs.

for martyrs, for Ash Wednesday, the last three days of Holy Week, and Whit Sunday. Blue, for all week-days after Trinity Sunday.

or Green, indifferently, for ordinary Sundays. Violet, Brown, or Grey, for Advent and Lent. Black, for Good Friday.
Colours of the University Boats, etc

(See College Colours.)


Accidental colours. Those colours seen on a white ground after looking for some time at a bright-coloured object, like the sun.

Complementary colours.
Colours which, in combination, produce white light

“The colour transmitted is always complementary to the one reflected.” —Brewster: Optics, xii.

Fundamental colours.
The seven colours of the spectrum: violet, indigo, blue, green, yellow, orange, and red. Or red, yellow, blue, also called primary or simple colours.

Secondary colours.
Those which result from the mixture of two or more primary or simple colours.

He was with the colours. In active military service.

“The period ... was raised from seven to nine years, five years being passed with the colours, and four in the reserve.” —Edinburgh Review (1886).

His coward lips did from their colours fly.
He was unable to speak. As cowards run away from their regimental colours, so [Caesar's] lips, when he was ill, ran away from their colour and turned pale.

To come out in his true colours.
To reveal one's proper character, divested of all that is meretricious. To describe [a matter] in very black colours. To see them with a jaundiced eye, and describe them accordingly; to describe [the matter] under the bias of strong prejudice.

To desert one's colours.
To become a turncoat; to turn tail. The allusion is to the military flag. To give colour or To give some plausible colour to the matter. To render the matter more plausible; to give it a more specious appearance.

To paint in bright colours.
To see or describe things in couleur de rose. Also “to paint in lively colours.” To put a false colour on a matter. To misinterpret it, or put a false construction on it.

To see things in their true colours.
To see them as they really are. Under colour of ... Under pretence of ...; under the alleged authority of ... Wearing his colours. Taking his part; being strongly attached to one. The idea is from livery.

“Jim could always count on every man, woman, and child, wherever he lived, wearing his colours, and backing him ... through thick and thin.” —Boldrewood: Robbery Under Arms, chap. xiv.

Without colour.
“In nudâ veritate,” without disguise.

National colours—

Great Britain Red and blue.

America, U.S. Stars on blue, white with red stripes.

Austria Red, white, and red.

Bavaria Red

Denmark Red, with white cross.

France Blue, white, and red.

Netherlands Red, white, and blue.

Portugal Blue and white.

Prussia White.

Russia White, with blue cross.

Spain Red, yellow, and red.

Sweden Blue, with yellow cross.

Switzerland Red, with white cross.

Colours Nailed to the Mast

(With our), à outrance. If the colours are nailed to the mast, they cannot be lowered to express submission.

“If they catch you at disadvantage, the mines for your life is the word; and so we fight them with our colours nailed to the mast.” —SirW.Scott: The Pirate, chap. xxi.


Incapacity of discerning one colour from another. The term was introduced by Sir David Brewster. It is of three sorts: (1) inability to discern any colours, so that everything is either black or white, shade or light; (2) inability to distinguish between primary colours, as red, blue, and yellow; or secondary colours, as green, purple, and orange; and (3) inability to distinguish between such composite colours as browns, greys, and neutral tints. Except in this one respect, the colour-blind may have excellent vision.

Colour Sergeant

A sergeant who carries or has charge of the regimental colours.


(verb). To colour up, to turn red in the face; to blush.

Coloured Frontispiece by Phiz
(A). A blush.
Source: Dictionary of Phrase and Fable, E. Cobham Brewer, 1894

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