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What Does It Mean to "Feel Blue"?

By A. Leverkuhn
Updated Jan 30, 2024
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When English speakers mention the idiom "to feel blue," they are expressing sadness or a similar emotion. This phrase is used in many ways in the English language, including in a musical genre, “the blues,” which not only involves a specific musical structure, but also a lyrical element that focuses on hardship and suffering. Feeling blue is an idiomatic phrase that highlights a cultural association between a certain color and an emotion.

It’s important to note that while the use of “feel blue” does not have a precise opposite corollary idiom, there is the idiomatic use of either “sunny” or “bright” to represent positive emotions. Also, blue is not the only color in the palette that is associated with emotion. Other “emotional colors” work in similar ways, where an intangible feeling is linked to a visual color.

Different idiomatic phrases in English refer to red to indicate anger. Someone might say “I saw red” indicating that the speaker was extremely angry. Similar ideas exist in phrases like “red rage” or “nature red in tooth and claw,” where the latter represents that ferocity of the natural animal world.

Many other phrases use the word black to indicate pessimism, cynicism, anger or depression. If someone has a “black day,” he or she is having an especially bad day. The same kind of idea is also used in other phrases like “black mood.”

Different theories abound on the exact origin of the term “feel blue” or “feeling blue.” Some point out that the water in human tears may have been perceived as “blue” in physical depiction such as cartoons. Blue is also a “cool color,” which is associated with more subdued emotional states. It should also be noted that a bluish tent to the skin is often an indication of poor health. Perhaps not surprisingly, darker shades of blue are more commonly associated with sadness than lighter shades.

Although there are a wide variety of phrases linking blue with sadness or a negative emotion, there are also others that associate the color blue with more positive emotions. Many of these rely on the idea of a light blue sky with white balance. The use of the phrase “blue sky” can be associated with happiness, openness, as well as the more tangible idea of good weather. This can be confusing to those who are not familiar with all of the idiomatic uses of color phrases. Largely, beginning English speakers can remember that the most common and simplest phrases, including “to feel blue,” usually associate blue with sadness.

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Discussion Comments

By anon949651 — On May 06, 2014

Thanks for the information. That was helpful, especially since I'm Arabian so different cultures make it difficult to understand idioms sometimes.

I just want to mention in reply to jonrss that in my culture, "green" refers to fertility. For instance, you may hear people describe an old man saying, "His eyes are green," which means he is still searching for women to marry because he is feeling virile. I hope that explains something. Thanks again.

By summing — On Jun 25, 2012
Whenever I hear the expression feeling blue I think of the Miles Davis album Kind of Blue, a beautiful and also quite melancholy piece of jazz genius. That is one of my all time favorite albums and one that I have often returned to when I am feeling low.

Miles Davis could do amazing things with his trumpet, but I think what I love most is they way he can turn it into a mournful wail. The darker side of his work is my favorite. He was a man who knew what it was like to be down in the dumps. And he communicated that through his horn better than anyone else.

By jonrss — On Jun 24, 2012

The article mentions that different colors are associated with different feelings. Blue is sad, orange is probably happy, red might be anger. But as I was thinking about it I wondered what green would be. They say that people are green with envy but that seems like too specific a feeling to be in the same category as the others. Feeling envious is not on the same level as feeling happy. Any suggestions for what green feels like?

By gravois — On Jun 24, 2012
That was always my favorite expression for feeling sad. It is so simple but expressive. When you are feeling sad it is a blue feeling some how, shadowy.

My dad used to use the term a lot too which is probably another reason that I like it so much. He would say, "What are you feeling blue about?" and then we would talk and usually eat cookies. It is one of those silly little things from childhood that sticks in your head for the rest of your life.

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