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Green is a color, the perception of which is evoked by light having a spectrum dominated by energy with a wavelength of roughly 520–570 nanometres. In the subtractive color system, it is not a primary color, but is created out of a mixture of yellow and blue, or yellow and cyan; it is considered one of the additive primary colors. On the HSV color wheel, the complement of green is magenta; that is, a purple color corresponding to an equal mixture of red and blue light. On a color wheel based on traditional color theory (RYB), the complementary color to green is considered to be red.

The word green is closely related to the Old English verb growan, “to grow”. It is used to describe plants or the ocean. Sometimes it can also describe someone who is inexperienced, jealous, or sick. In the United States of America, green is a slang term for money, among other things. Several colloquialisms have derived from these meanings, such as “green around the gills”, a phrase used to describe a person who looks ill.

Several minerals have a green color, including emerald, which is colored green by its chromium content. Animals such as frogs, lizards, and other reptiles and amphibians, fish, insects, and birds, appear green because of a mixture of layers of blue and green coloring on their skin. By far the largest contributor to green in nature is chlorophyll, the chemical by which plants photosynthesize. Many creatures have adapted to their green environments by taking on a green hue themselves as camouflage.

Culturally, green has broad and sometimes contradictory meanings. In some cultures, green symbolizes hope and growth, while in others, it is associated with death, sickness, envy, or the devil. The most common associations, however, are found in its ties to nature. For example, Islam venerates the color, as it expects paradise to be full of lush greenery. Green is also associated with regeneration, fertility and rebirth for its connections to nature. Recent political groups have taken on the color as symbol of environmental protection and social justice, and consider themselves part of the Green movement, some naming themselves Green parties. This has led to similar campaigns in advertising, as companies have sold green, or environmentally friendly, products.

Etymology and definitions

The word green comes from the Old English word grene, or, in its older form, groeni. This adjective is closely related to the Old English verb growan (“to grow”) and goes back into Western Germanic and Scandinavian languages. Many Asian languages have no word distinguishing blue from green, although recently published dictionaries do make the distinction. The Thai word เขียว besides meaning "green" also means "rank" and "smelly" and holds other unpleasant associations. In Japanese, despite the existence of a word in the modern language meaning "green", the color is sometimes described as , as in and , reflecting the absence of a word meaning "green" in old Japanese.

In Persian, the word for green is سبز sabz, but this word can also mean "black" or "dark". In Persian erotic poetry, dark-skinned women are addressed as "green," as in phrases like سبز گندم گون sabz-gandom-gun (literally "green wheat colored") or سبز مليح sabz-malih ("a green beauty"). Similarly, in Sudanese Arabic, dark-skinned people are described as أخضر akhḍar 'green', instead of black.

In science

Color vision and colorimetry

The perception of green is evoked by light having a spectrum dominated by energy with a wavelength of roughly 520–570 nm. Green is considered one of the additive primary colors, along with red and blue. The additive color model defines colors emitted from a light source. For example, a mixture of green, red, and blue light will produce white light. In subtractive color mixtures, which deals with colors found in pigments and dyes, green is created by mixing yellow and blue. On the HSV color wheel, the complement of green is magenta; that is, a color corresponding to an equal mixture of red and blue light (one of the purples). On a traditional color wheel, based on subtractive color, the complementary color to green is considered to be red.

The sensitivity of the dark-adapted human eye is greatest at about 507 nm, a blue-green color, while the light-adapted eye is most sensitive about 555 nm, a slightly yellowish green. Human eyes have color receptors known as cone cells, of which there are three types. In some cases, one is missing or faulty, which can cause color blindness, including the common inability to distinguish red and yellow from green, known as deuteranopia or red–green color blindness. Green is restful to the eye. Studies show that a green environment can reduce fatigue.

In minerals and chemistry

Many minerals provide pigments which have been used in green paints and dyes over the centuries. Pigments, in this case, are minerals which reflect the color green, rather that emitting it through luminescent or phosphorescent qualities. The large number of green pigments makes it impossible to mention them all. Among the more notable green minerals, however is the emerald, which is colored green by trace amounts of chromium and sometimes vanadium. Chromium(III) oxide (Cr2O3), is called chrome green, also called viridian or institutional green when used as a pigment. For many years, the source of amazonite's color was a mystery. Widely thought to have been due to copper because copper compounds often have blue and green colors, the blue-green color is likely to be derived from small quantities of lead and water in the feldspar. Copper is the source of the green color in malachite pigments, chemically known as basic copper(II) carbonate. Early painters would also use copper in the form of verdigris mixed with wax and turpentine to create green pigmentation in paints. Mixtures of oxidized cobalt and zinc were also used to create green paints as early as the 18th century. A more complete list of green minerals and pigments can be seen here.

There is no natural source for green food colorings which has been approved by the US Food and Drug Administration. Chlorophyll, the E numbers E140 and E141, is the most common green chemical found in nature, and only allowed in certain medicines and cosmetic materials. Quinoline Yellow (E104) is a commonly used coloring in the United Kingdom but is banned in Australia, Japan, Norway and the United States. Green S (E142) is prohibited in many countries, for it is known to cause hyperactivity, asthma, urticaria, and insomnia.

To create green sparks, fireworks use barium salts, such as barium chlorate, barium nitrate crystals, or barium chloride, also used for green fireplace logs. Copper salts typically burn blue, but cupric chloride (also known as "campfire blue") can also produce green flames. Green pyrotechnic flares can use a mix ratio 75:25 of boron and potassium nitrate. Smoke can be turned green by a mixture: solvent yellow 33, solvent green 3, lactose, magnesium carbonate plus sodium carbonate added to potassium chlorate.

In biology

Green is common in nature, as many plants are green because of a complex chemical known as chlorophyll which is involved in photosynthesis. Animals typically use the color green as camouflage, blending in with the chlorophyll green of the surrounding environment. Green animals include, especially, amphibians, reptiles, and some fish, birds and insects. Most fish, reptiles, amphibians, and birds appear green because of a reflection of blue light coming through an over-layer of yellow pigment. Perception of color can also be affected by the surrounding environment. For example, broadleaf forests typically have a yellow-green light about them as the trees filter the light. Turacoverdin is one chemical which can cause a green hue in birds, especially. Invertebrates such as insects or mollusks often display green colors because of porphyrin pigments, sometimes caused by diet. This can causes their feces to look green as well. Other chemicals which generally contribute to greenness among organisms are flavins (lychochromes) and hemanovadin. Humans have imitated this by wearing green clothing as a camouflage in military and other fields. Substances that may impart a greenish hue to one's skin include biliverdin, the green pigment in bile, and ceruloplasmin, a protein that carries copper ions in chelation.

In culture


In many folklores and literatures, green has traditionally been used to symbolize nature and its embodied attributes, namely those of life, fertility, and rebirth. Green was symbolic of resurrection and immortality in Ancient Egypt; the god Osiris was depicted as green-skinned. It is often used to describe foliage and the sea, and has become a symbol of environmentalism. Someone who works well with plants is said to have a green thumb or green fingers, and the word greenhorn refers to an inexperienced person. A company is said to be greenwashing if they advertise positive environmental practices to cover up environmental destruction. Green is used to describe anyone young, inexperienced, or gullible (probably by analogy to unripe, i.e. unready or immature, fruit). Green was the traditional color worn by hunters in the 19th century particularly the shade called hunter green. In the 20th century most hunters began wearing the color olive drab, a shade of green, instead of hunter green.

Love and lust

Stories of the medieval period further portray it as representing love and the base, natural desires of man. In Persian and Sudanese poetry, dark-skinned women, called "green" women may be eroticized. The Chinese term for cuckold is "to wear a green hat." It is because of this that it is extremely rare to see any Chinese man wearing a green hat. Green is also used to describe jealousy and envy.

Death, decay, and evil

Green is also known to have signified witchcraft, devilry and evil for its association with faeries and spirits of early English folklore. It also had an association with decay and toxicity. Actor Bela Lugosi wore green-hued makeup for the role of Dracula in the 1927–28 Broadway stage production. A green tinge in the skin is sometimes associated with nausea and sickness. A physically-ill person is said to look green around the gills. The color, when combined with gold, is seen as representing the fading of youth. In the Celtic tradition, green was avoided in clothing for its superstitious association with misfortune and death. Green is thought to be an unlucky color in British and British-derived cultures, where green cars, wedding dresses, and theater costumes are all the objects of superstition. Spider-Man villains were often colored green to represent a contrast to the hero's red. In some Far East cultures the color green is often used as a symbol of sickness and/or nausea;


The United States one dollar note, like all other American dollar bills, is historically green.
In areas that use the U.S. Dollar as currency, green carries a connotation of money, wealth, and capitalism, because green is the color of United States banknotes, giving rise to the slang term greenback for cash. One of the more notable uses of this meaning is found in The Wonderful Wizard of Oz. In this story is the Emerald City, where everyone wears tinted glasses which make everything look green. According to the populist interpretation of the story, the city’s color is used by the author, L. Frank Baum, to illustrate the financial system of America in his day, as he lived in a time when America was debating the use of paper money versus gold. Green can communicate safety to proceed, as in traffic lights. In China, green is associated with the east, with sunrise, and with life and growth. In Thailand, the color green is consider auspicious for those born on a Wednesday day (light green for those born at night .)

Nationality and politics

[[File:Greenflags.png|thumb|300px|Sovereign states with green flags:

Several countries use green on their flags for symbolic or cultural reasons. Green, for example is one of the three colors (along with red and black, or red and gold) of Pan-Africanism. Several African countries thus use the color on their flags, including South Africa, Ghanamarker, Senegalmarker, Malimarker, Ethiopiamarker, Togomarker, Guineamarker, Beninmarker, and Zimbabwemarker. The Pan-African colors are borrowed from the Ethiopian flag, one of the oldest independent African countries. Green in these cases represents the natural richness of Africa.

Many flags of the Islamic world are green, as the color is considered sacred in Islam (see below). The flag of Hamas, as well as the flag of Iran, is green, symbolizing their Islamist ideology. The flag of Libya consists of a simple green field with no other characteristics. It is the only national flag in the world with just one color and no design, insignia, or other details. In the run-up to Iran's 2009 presidential election, the reformist candidate Mir-Hossein Mousavi chose green as his campaign color, and it became pervasive among his supporters during the campaign and the post-election protests. Green is the lowest of the three bands on the flag of India. The green stands for fertility and prosperity. earlier Indian flags had contained a similar green band representing Islam, the second-most predominant religion in India.
Vert tincture

Other countries use flags for reasons of heraldry, or to represent lush national vegetation. In heraldry, green is called vert (French for "green"). Fourteenth century documents describe vert as a symbol of "jolliness and youth, but also of beauty and shame" as well as of death. Vert is used for the flags of Wales and Hungary, and is the basis for the Brazilian flag as well. Other countries using green in their flags use it to represent their country's lush vegetation, as in the flag of Jamaica, and hope in the future, as in the flag of Nigeria.

Green is a symbol of Ireland, which is often referred to as the “Emerald Isle”. The color is particularly identified with the republican and nationalist traditions in modern times. It is used this way on the flag of the Republic of Ireland, in balance with white and the Protestant orange. Green is a strong trend in the Irish holiday St. Patrick’s Day.

Green has become the symbolic color of environmentalism, chosen for its association with nature, health, and growth. The Green Party is any of various political parties emphasizing ecology, grassroots democracy, nonviolence, and social justice. Green Parties, now active in over one hundred countries, are more broadly included in the green movement, and most are members of the Global Green Network. The association of green with advocates of the environment has extended to other circles as well, as is the case with Patriarch Bartholomew I of Constantinople, who is often referred to as the “Green Patriarch” because the new environmental focus which he brought about within the Ecumenical Patriarchatemarker.


Green is considered the traditional color of Islam. There are several reasons for this. First, Muhammad is reliably quoted in a hadith as saying that “water, greenery, and a beautiful face” were three universally good things. In the Qur'an, sura Al-Insan, believers in God in Paradise wear fine green silk. Also, Al-Khidr (“The Green One”), is a Qur’anic figure who met and traveled with Moses.

In the metaphysics of the "New Age Prophetess", Alice Bailey, in her system called the Seven Rays which classifies humans into seven different metaphysical psychological types, the "third ray" of "creative intelligence" is represented by the color green. People who have this metaphysical psychological type are said to be "on the Green Ray". In Hinduism, Green is used to symbolically represent the fourth, heart chakra (Anahata). Psychics who claim to be able to observe the aura with their third eye report that someone with a green aura is typically someone who is in an occupation related to health, such as a physician or nurse, as well as people who are lovers of nature and the outdoors.

Also, Roman Catholic and more traditional Protestant clergy wear green vestments at liturgical celebrations during Ordinary Time. In the Eastern Catholic Church, green is the color of Pentecost. Green is one of the Christmas colors as well, possibly dating back to pre-Christian times, when evergreens were worshiped for their ability to maintain their color through the winter season. Romans used green holly and evergreen as decorations for their winter solstice celebration called Saturnalia, which eventually evolved into a Christmas celebration.

See also

Notes and references

  1. Newman, Paul and Martha Ratliff. Linguistic Fieldwork. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2001. ISBN 0521669375 pg. 105
  2. F. Steingass, A Comprehensive Persian-English Dictionary s.v. سبز
  3. Carla N. Daughtry, " Greenness in the Field," Michigan Today, University of Michigan, Fall 1997
  4. The New Encyclopædia Britannica. Chicago: Encyclopædia Britannica, 2002. ISBN 0852297874
  5. Laird, Donald A. "Fatigue: Public Enemy Number One: What It Is and How to Fight It." The American Journal of Nursing (Sep 1933) 33.9 pgs. 835-841.
  6. Hurlbut, Cornelius S. Jr, & Kammerling, Robert C., 1991, Gemology, p. 203, John Wiley & Sons, New York
  7. A. F. Holleman and E. Wiberg "Inorganic Chemistry" Academic Press, 2001, New York.
  8. Robertson, D. W. Jr. "Why the Devil Wears Green." Modern Language Notes. (Nov 1954) 69.7 pgs. 470-472
  9. The article on greenwashing discusses several examples.
  10. Maerz and Paul A Dictionary of Color New York:1930 McGraw-Hill Page 162--Discussion of color Hunter Green
  11. Chamberlin, Vernon A. “Symbolic Green: A Time-Honored Characterizing Device in Spanish Literature.” Hispania. 51.1 (Mar 1968) pp. 29-37
  12. Goldhurst, William. “The Green and the Gold: The Major Theme of Gawain and the Green Knight.” College English. 20.2 (Nov 1958) pp. 61-65 doi:10.2307/372161
  13. Williams, Margaret. The Pearl Poet, His Complete Works. Random House, 1967.
  14. Ford, Mark. Self Improvement of Relationship Skills through Body Language. City: Llumina Press, 2004. ISBN 1932303790 pg. 81
  15. Lewis, John S. "Gawain and the Green Knight." College English. 21.1 (Oct 1959) pp. 50–51
  16. The Idea of the Green Knight, Lawrence Besserman, ELH, Vol. 53, No. 2. (Summer, 1986), pp. 219-239. The Johns Hopkins University Press.
  17. Why The Devil Wears Green, D. W. Robertson Jr., Modern Language Notes, Vol. 69, No. 7. (Nov., 1954), pp. 470-472. The Johns Hopkins University Press.
  18. "Folklore and Symbolism of Green," by John Hutchings in Folklore, 1997, 108:55.
  19. Kalb, Ira. Creating Your Own Marketing Makes Good $ & Sense. K & A Press, 1989. ISBN 0924050012 pg. 210
  20. Carruthers, Bruce G.; Sarah Babb. "The Color of Money and the Nature of Value: Greenbacks and Gold in Postbellum America." The American Journal of Sociology. (May 1996) 101.6 pgs. 1556-1591
  21. Oxford English Dictionary
  22. Yoon, Hong-Key. The Culture of Feng-Shui in Korea. Lexington: Lexington Books, 2006. ISBN 0739113488 pg. 27
  23. Murrell, Nathaniel et al. Chanting down Babylon. Philadelphia: Temple University Press, 1998. ISBN 1566395844 pg. 135
  24. Friedland, Roger and Richard Hecht. To Rule Jerusalem. Berkeley: University of California Press, 2000. ISBN 0520220927 pg. 461
  25. Kaplan, Leslie C. Iran. ISBN 1404255486 pg. 22
  26. Symons, Mitchell. This Book...of More Perfectly Useless Information. New York: HarperEntertainment, 2005. ISBN 0060828234 p. 229
  27. Miller, Dean. The Epic Hero. Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 2000. ISBN 0801862396 pgs. 289-290
  28. Brault, Gerard J. (1997). Early Blazon: Heraldic Terminology in the Twelfth and Thirteenth Centuries, (2nd ed.). Woodbridge, UK: The Boydell Press. ISBN 0-85115-711-4.
  29. Smith, Whitney. Flag Lore of All Nations. Brookfield: Millbrook Press, 2001. ISBN 0761317538 pg. 49
  30. Amienyi, Osabuohien. Communicating National Integration. Ashgate Publishing, 2005. ISBN 0754644251 pg. 43
  31. Stevens, Samantha. The Seven Rays: a Universal Guide to the Archangels. City: Insomniac Press, 2004. ISBN 1894663497 pg. 24
  32. Swami Panchadasi The Human Aura: Astral Colors and Thought Forms Des Plaines, Illinois, USA:1912--Yogi Publications Society Page 35
  33. Collins, Ace and Clint Hansen. Stories behind the Great Traditions of Christmas. Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2003. ISBN 0310248809 pg. 77

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