Most issues aren’t black or white, meaning they are not always clear-cut, but it’s clear that Americans use colors in their everyday speech to convey ideas and emotions.

If you talk to an American, it probably won’t be long before he or she uses one of these color-based idioms.

Red tape


What it means: The unnecessary paperwork and procedures of a complicated bureaucracy.
In conversation: “When my father was rushed to the hospital, the head nurse cut through all the red tape so that he could get to see a doctor immediately.”

See red

What it means: To get angry.
In conversation: “My mother sees red when I come home late.”

Out of the blue


What it means: Suddenly and unexpectedly.
In conversation: “We were walking down the street when from out of the blue an old classmate we hadn’t seen for years appeared.”

Once in a blue moon

What it means: Very rarely.
In conversation: “Jean’s parents encouraged her to accept the job with the prestigious company in New York. They told her that a job offer like that comes along only once in a blue moon.”

Tickled pink


What it means: Really pleased; very happy.
In conversation: “My niece got her first job today. She’s so pleased with herself. She’s tickled pink.”

In the red

What it means: Losing money; not making a profit.
In conversation: “Some years my business makes a profit, but other years I’m in the red.”

Learn more

ShareAmerica features materials on learning American English. Explore everyday conversations or learn idioms related to sports, weather and food.

The American English website has a variety of free resources for learners and teachers of English. The American English Facebook page posts learning materials for English language learners daily.