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Why is the colour green often associated with negativity? Green is paired with jealousy, envy, vomit, immaturity, etc. Yet it is the colour of growth and freshness. In other words, the natural association of the colour green is with something positive. But, in English, (besides its use as growth) it is often symbolic of something negative. Why is this?

Etymonline suggests that green is the "color of jealousy at least since Shakespeare (1596)" (how/why exactly?). Could this be the source?

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I dispute your assertion: green is sometimes associated with negativity, but other times (and probably somewhere near as often) with positive things. Look at all the emphasis on "green" (i.e., ecology-friendly) practices and technologies. And for a billion Muslims, green describes the state of the inhabitants of paradise. –  Robusto Oct 2 '12 at 19:45
What makes green particularly negative? Feeling blue means feeling sad, in the red means needing money, a black heart means sinister, being yellow means being cowardly... many different colors have both positive and negative nuances, depending on context. –  J.R. Oct 2 '12 at 19:47
@Robusto I have mentioned the growth and freshness aspect of it in my question. I find that a natural association thanks to the abundance of chlorophyll and all the good things that come off it. However, there is no such natural explanation that I can think of for the others. IMO, the Islamic connection is better explained here. –  coleopterist Oct 2 '12 at 20:07
@RoddyoftheFrozenPeas I've cited three examples in my question. Perhaps my wording is inadequate and I shouldn't have generalised it so. –  coleopterist Oct 2 '12 at 20:19
Doesn't seem all that unnatural to me - ever witnessed anyone getting seasick? Anyhow, you might find this interesting. –  J.R. Oct 2 '12 at 20:53
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closed as off topic by Carlo_R., FumbleFingers, tenfour, J.R., MετάEd Oct 2 '12 at 21:10

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1 Answer

Any given color can no doubt be associated with many things. I don't disagree that a natural association of the color green is with growth, but what makes you say *the" natural association? Yes, green is the color of leaves and moss and thus it seems natural to associate it with growth and abundance. But green is also the color of the puss from gangreene and people who are desperately ill sometimes have a green tinge, so green is equally naturally the color of sickness. In the United States our money has been green for a century or more so Americans often use the color green to represent money or wealth. (A common slogan of those who say their business is uninterested in the race of its customers or employees is, "We don't care about black or white, just green.") Green is commonly understood to mean permission or progress because a green traffic light means go. (Or maybe a green traffic light means "go" because the color green was associated with permission -- I can't say which came first.)

I suspect you could say the same about many colors. "Black" is often associated with the unknown or fear, presumably because we can't see in the dark. But it is also associated with finanacial solvency, because of the old practice of writing positive monetary amounts in black ink and negative amounts in red ink. Etc.

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+1, I like your answer, but I have noticed that you forgot that green is the colour of the skin of spatial aliens :) –  user19148 Oct 2 '12 at 21:28
Thanks! But the answer to my question lies within [this link] (phrases.org.uk/bulletin_board/1/messages/2195.html) provided by J.R. All the other associations cited in your answer are, IMHO, "artificial". The choice of green in traffic lights is explained here. –  coleopterist Oct 3 '12 at 5:10
@coleopterist I agree that green as the color of money and traffic lights is "artificial" in the sense of man-made and probably aribtrary. But green as the color of pus and of sick people is certainly not. Again, you're picking one occurrence of the color green -- chlorophyll -- and declaring it THE natural thing that should be the inevitable only thing that should come to mind when we think of the color green, and then attaching one subjective meaning to that instance -- life and growth and vitality -- and insisting that that is THE meaning that should come to mind. ... –  Jay Oct 3 '12 at 14:11
... But why shouldn't I think of sickly green pus when I think of the color green? Or if I do think of leaves and grass, rather than think of growth and freshness, why shouldn't I think of "nuisance"? If I lived in a jungle, I might well think of growing things as bothers that have to be hacked away with a machete every time I want to walk anywhere. As a homeowner I often think of grass as something that has to be mowed constantly. Etc. –  Jay Oct 3 '12 at 14:15
@Carlo_R. Where did you get the crazy idea that aliens are green? Everyone knows that aliens are gray. arcturi.com/GreyArchives.html –  Jay Oct 3 '12 at 14:23
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