Colorful Spanish Expressions

The fact that Spanish is a colorful language is not something we simply say… it’s true! There are many expressions in Spanish that use colors to make their point. Take a look at just a few.

Liarla parda: This is an expression that’s used to talk about a situation that continues to be problematic (or has gotten worse) as we try to fix it. The reference to the color “pardo” (brown) has been the object of many theories, from the one that says it is due to the “dark” color of the situation, to the one that associates it with the custom of tying up (liar) brown (pardo) rabbits after a hunt; anyone who has ever tried to hunt these animals knows just how complicated it is to catch them.


Irse de picos pardos: We return to the color brown again and this time with an expression that refers to anyone who goes out with the objective of finding “love” no matter what they have to do. The color brown is used because, it is said, centuries ago, “promiscuous” women wore cut off brown skirts.

Ponerse verde de envidia: The association of green with the anxiety of wanting what others have has an interesting history. It is said that many years ago it was affirmed that jealousy provoked an excess secretion of bile, turning the skin a slightly green color. Today, the explanation is funnier and even cleverer: Queen Elisabeth Farnese, it seems, was envious of the culture and beauty of her daughter-in-law, Barbara of Portugal. At the crowning ceremony of the Queen’s stepson, who would become Ferdinand VI, she supposedly wore a “verde endivia” (endive green) colored dress (a color close to the color of lettuce). And it didn’t take long for schemers, courtiers and upstarts to pick up on the word play between “endivia” (endive) and “envidia” (envy).

Ser un viejo verde: This is what we call lascivious old men who go crazy when they see any woman in a skirt. This expression comes from Roman times and specifically from a work by the author Virgil, which says that the old age of Charon (the boat that brings the souls of the dead to the other side) is bright and green. Green was a color that meant vigor and life, since it brings thriving vegetation to mind, but over time it began to be used ironically.

Poner verde a alguien: Someone “pone verde a alguien” (“makes someone green”) when they criticize them behind their back. Why the color green again? There are two opinions: one makes reference to when something rotten is covered with mold (because the criticizer is “spoiling” the person with their criticism); and the other makes reference to the color of a bruise (because one person is metaphorically “bruising” the other).

Tener la negra: This expression means “to have a streak of bad luck.” It comes from an ancient Greek custom which used white beans to conjure up good luck and black beans for bad luck.

Estar sin blanca: This expression is used a lot when someone doesn’t have any money. There are people who think it’s because of the color of pocket linings (usually white); but it actually refers to the type of coins used in the time of Philip II.

Comerse un marrón: This expression is commonly used to talk about a complication at work that has led to much more work for us. The association with the color comes from the Castilian tradition of calling heavy tree trunks “marrón” (brown); so “eating a heavy trunk” makes reference to a heavy and difficult work load.

Prensa rosa: This is the name we give to sensationalist news specialized in gossip and celebrity romances. It has nothing to do with the color of the paper used to print the news (in this case “prink press” would be economics – since the economics paper is literally pink in color). In actuality it has to do with the association of “love” with this color.


Ponerse morado: We use this expression when we overindulge in a great meal. The association with the color is due to the association with an illness called cyanosis which provokes a bluish-purple (morado) coloration of the skin due to a lack of oxygen. One of the causes of this illness is actually frequent overeating.

Spanish is, after all, a very colorful language. You can’t imagine the number of expressions we have left off the list. Do you know any of them?

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