Idioms Across Europe: 25 Different Uses for the Colour Yellow

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The diversity within the langauges of the world is, in a word, glorious. Neighbouring countries can have completely different phrases, terms and slangwords for the same concept, with no visible correlation. In particular, idioms vary hugely from language to language. In English, we can be green with envy, we might see red, or we could be feeling a bit blue. But uttering those phrases in another language might earn you some strange looks.


Adam Jacot de Boinod, author of The Meaning of Tingo and Other Extraordinary Words from around the World, has delved into some of the most interesting idioms from across Europe for us, specifically in relation to the colour yellow in this issue. Who knew one colour could have so many linguistic uses?


1. French: “Jaune d’envie” – yellow (i.e. green) with envy

2. German: “Gelb vor Eifersucht werden” – to become yellow with jealousy

3. Norwegian: “Slå noen gul og blå” – to beat someone up badly (literally to beat someone yellow and blue)

4. Turkish: “Sararıp solmak” – looking sad or unwell (lit. getting yellow and withered)

5. Portuguese “Me ferrei de verde e amarelo!” – I’m in trouble (lit. I’m screwed in green and yellow!)

6. Portuguese: “Sorriso amarelo” – a forced, insincere smile (lit. a yellow smile)

7. French: “Rire jaune” – to give a forced, insincere laugh (lit. to laugh yellow)

8. French: “Voir jaune” – to be pessimistic (lit. to see yellow)

9. Italian: “un libro giallo” – a thriller book (lit. a yellow book)

10. Italian: “giallo d’invidia” – very envious (lit. yellow with envy)

11. Romanian: “a se îngălbeni de frică” – to become visibly afraid (lit. to become yellow with fear)

12. Romanian: “a flutura steguleţe galbene” – to blather (lit. to stream little yellow flags)

13. Romanian: “galben ca turta de ceară” – very pale (lit. as yellow as wax cake)

14. Romanian: “a râde/surâde galben” – to laugh or smile in a forced, insincere way (lit. to laugh or smile yellow)

15. German: “das Gelbe vom Ei” – a good thing (lit. the yellow of the egg)

16. Serbo-Croatian: “žut ko krpa” – nauseous (lit. yellow as cloth)

17. Estonian: “sárga az irigységtől” – very envious (lit. yellow with envy)

18. Estonian: “leissza magát a sárga földig” – he’s very drunk (lit. he drinks himself to the yellow gourd)

19. Polish: “żółtodziób” – an inexperienced person, a rookie (lit. a yellow beak)

20. Polish: “mieć żółte papiery” – to be insane (lit. to have yellow papers)

21. Scottish Gaelic: “buidheach” – jaundice (lit. yellowness)

22. Finnish: “keltanokka” – a beginner, a rookie (lit. yellow-beaked)

23. Swedish: “slå någon gul och blå” – to bruise someone (lit. to hit someone yellow and blue)

24. Danish: “et barn på gule plader” – a step-child (lit. a child with yellow licence plates)

25. Italian: “un giallo” – an unsolved mystery (lit. a yellow)


Adam Jacot de Boinod is the author of The Meaning of Tingo and Other Extraordinary Words from around the World, published by Penguin Books, and the creator of the iPhone App Tingo, a quiz on Interesting Words.

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