English Color Expressions – Red

Some of the first words most people learn, when learning a new language frequently involve learning the names of different colors.  But once you know the names of the colors in English, there is no need to stop there.  Push yourself and learn some additional ways that colors are used in everyday speech.

The color red is traditionally associated with heat and fire in most languages.  And while you will find a number of English expressions involved red that fit this description, there are some below that will surprise you.

Red Tape – This refers to a set of rules which hinder or stop people from making progress.  You will hear this used in business and government settings.  For example, “Because of all of the red tape, I wasn’t able to get my passport renewed today.  Instead I have to fill out more paperwork and come back next week.”  If you have ever had to interact with a government agency then you have probably experienced red tape.  The main verb that is used with red tape, is to cut.  So, if you try to get rid or lessen the rules, you can say that you are cutting the red tape.

To be in the red – This refers to having negative cash flow.  This can apply to a person or a business.  An example for a person is when they earn 2000 euros per month but they spend 2500 euros every month.  In this case they are 500 euros in the red every month.  The same phrase can also be used with a business.  If the business is spending more money than it is earning, then you would say that they are in the red.

Red Flag – A red flag refers to something which signals that there is a problem.  It can apply to people or to situations.  For example, “When the boss caught Bob surfing the web, it was a red flag that he wasn’t a hard worker.”  The behavior of Bob signaled to the boss, that perhaps he wasn’t working as hard as he claimed to be and that the boss needed to keep a closer eye on him.

Red hot – The most obvious explanation is when something is very hot then it is red hot.  But it can also be used to describe something which is very popular.  So, for example, if Primark is having a summer sale, they might advertise by saying that there are red hot savings.  It doesn’t mean that the store is on fire, but rather they want to say that the sale is popular and offers good deals.  In the same way, around Christmas time every year there is a red hot toy.  This means this is the most popular toy that every kid wants for the holiday.

Red-eye – This doesn’t just mean when your eyes are itchy and red in color.  Rather this term refers to a flight that leaves late at night and arrives early in the morning.  For example, if you fly from America to Germany, you will frequently take a red-eye flight.  This phrase is used because for many people on the plane they are not able to sleep and when they arrive they are tired.

Roll out the red carpet – If you have ever watched an award show, such as, the Oscars you have seen that when the celebrities walk past the photographers, they walk on a red carpet.  However, this phrase isn’t just for celebrities, it also refers to anytime that someone receives special treatment.  So, for example, if you visit your friend and she has everything ready for you (your favorite foods and drinks) and treats you like a guest, then you could say that she rolled out the red carpet for you.  She did everything she could to make you feel special.

Are there other phrases using red that you can think of?  Bring them to our next lesson and we can discuss it further.