I Got the Blues

By Maeve Maddox

Blue is not only a favorite color for a lot of people, it is a word that occurs in many English expressions, some of them oddly contradictory.

Obscene language is said to be “blue,” yet blue laws are those that forbid activities considered irreligious to take place on Sunday. A common blue law in the United States forbids the sale of liquor on Sundays.

The sky is blue but the gray coats of some dogs are also called “blue.”

A blue mood is a sad mood. To have the blues is to be sad, and the Blues refers to a type of music about unhappy love.

People who talk so much that others can hardly get a word in edgewise are said to talk a blue streak. (One can also “cuss a blue streak.”)

Bluegrass (Poa pratensis) is a species of grass that is not native to the United States, but is closely associated with Kentucky, which is known as the Bluegrass State.

Bluegrass music is a sub-genre of country music which relies mostly on stringed instruments such as acoustic guitar, mandolin, fiddle, and banjo.

A bluebird is what the name implies, a bird with blue feathers. Some have red breast feathers. The Eastern Bluebird is New York’s state bird. In literature and art, the bluebird is a symbol of happiness.

Blue chip stocks are Wall Street investments considered to be “safe” because they are issued by the most successful, most profitable companies. When the expression was coined, casino poker chips with the highest value were the blue ones.

A blue blood is a person of aristocratic lineage. The expression is from Spanish sangre azul. It was coined to distinguish families of Castile that did not have Moorish or Jewish ancestors from those who did. The underlying idea is that blood veins are blue and the lighter the skin, the bluer the veins look.

The term Bluestocking was coined in the 18th century. At first it was applied in a derogatory sense to both men and women who attended Elizabeth Montagu’s fashionable London literary salon. It was the men who wore the blue stockings, but the term quickly became a common tag for a woman who likes to discuss literature.

To say that something happens in a blue moon is to say that it rarely happens.

Then there’s Ol’ Blue Eyes, a common epithet for singer Frank Sinatra.

How many more blue expressions can you think of?

More about…
Blue as color of dog’s coat
Kentucky bluegrass
Bluegrass music
Eastern bluebird
blue moon

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10 Responses to “I Got the Blues”

  • Miriam Robbins Midkiff

    The term blueblood also came about because those who were aristocratic were thought to have blue blood because their skin had a bluish tinge to it. This was from eating on silver dishes with silver utensils. Microscopic flakes of silver would be consumed, along with the food, and it was this mineral in that gave a bluish tinge to blood and the blood vessels just under the skin.

  • Blog Expert

    I got the blues also.

  • Peter

    A few more: something that moves extremely fast is “going like a blue streak”, something that happens unexpectedly comes “out of the blue”, and “a blue” is an argument in Aussie English, a “blue hair” is an old person, and a “blue pill” is something that makes/lets you ignore reality (from The Matrix)…as well as being Viagra. And then there’s the hypothetical nanotechnology known as “blue goo” (along with various other colours of “goo”).

  • Alex

    And not to forget ‘blue collar’ jobs…

  • Alex

    Not to forget ‘blue collar’ jobs.

  • Grace S.

    A “blue moon,” incidentally, is the second full moon in a calendar month. That is, indeed, fairly rare.

  • Charlie

    You can also hold your breath till you turn blue, as in to get your way.
    You can also talk till you’re blue in the face and still not convince the listener.
    There is also a laundry additive called bluing that is used to turn white clothes whiter when they become yellowed or grayed.
    Something can appear out of the wild blue yonder.
    A blue book is used to establish the value of used cars.
    Alice blue is of a steel blue colour named for Theodore Roosevelt’s daughter. Besides being quite fashionable in the early 1900s it is used by the US Navy on its ships.
    Blue is a favourite colour – and I have the eyes to prove it. 😉

  • Tony

    What about a ‘true blue’ ie a person who is loyal.

  • Tim

    How about “blue plate special” in a diner?

  • Peter

    And, of course, you can have a blue (e.g., from Oxford)

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