I have been trying to see what is behind the hyped-up phrase "Go Green" and have asked friends to rephrase that buzz-word/cliche, but nobody has given me a satisfactory explanation of what it actually means, in terms of grammar.

When I searched Google for "Go Green & Grammar", I got webpages where they are trying to spread Environmental messages, while teaching English. When I searched for "etymology of go green", I got a wiki entry for "Gringo". When I searched for "what does it mean to go green", I got "Going green means implementing certain lifestyle changes designed to help you live in a more eco-friendly way". I get all this, but I want to know about the grammatical correctness and analysis and etymology.

So here I am , on ELU, asking about it.

I see business PR statements like, "Every year, we have been conducting this event, but this year we decided to go green".

Specifically, I have two Doubts (1) What is the grammatical & Etymological Deconstruction of the sentence "Go Green !" or the phrase ". . . go green . . ." ? & (2) What is one actually supposed to do to "go green" ?

Is it a hyped-up buzz-word/cliche devoid of meaning ? Are we currently in some other colour and we have to physically move to some green zone ?

I thought , maybe translating between languages will help. So I converted "go green" to French to get "mettre au vert" and back to English to get "go green". Now I converted "mettre au bleu" to get "put blue" and "mettre au rouge" to get "put red". It seems (from this very small inconclusive experiment) that the "go green" hype has entered French too, such that some colours "go", while other colours "put".

  • 1
    I'm not sure what your problem is, Prem. To "go" some ideology like environmental is pretty established in English. Think of the way the Americans used to fuss about how some country, perhaps including yours, was in danger of "going Communist". It's the same usage.
    – David Pugh
    May 6, 2015 at 19:43
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    The colour green is, unremarkably, associated with the environment, and so it is often used as a short, catchy synonym for the more cumbersome phrase environmentally friendly. To go can often be a synonym for to become, as in to go insane. So, one might rephrase we've decided to go green as we've decided to become environmentally friendly. In terms of grammar, to go is (counter-intuitively) behaving like a copular verb and green is a predicate adjective. As for whether the idiom to go green has lost its meaning and become little more than a buzz-phrase, who knows?
    – Anonym
    May 6, 2015 at 19:56
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    @Prem There is only one metaphor here: green = trees and grass = unspoiled nature = environmentally friendly. As others have said, one common meaning of go is become (as an imperative).
    – Dan Bron
    May 7, 2015 at 4:48
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    @Prem Nah. If you say "He's a very green guy" the is is not figurative even though you're not describing his skin color. If you say "That company is taking up a number of green initiatives", the taking up is not metaphorical even though the initiatives are not printed on green pieces of paper. In those two examples, just like in "Go Green!", there is only one metaphor (that green=environmentally conscious); the other words are just contributing their standard meanings and functions to that one metaphor. As go*=*become is.
    – Dan Bron
    May 7, 2015 at 11:43
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    @Prem It sounds to me like you the slogan "go green" rings hypocritical to you. I'm absolutely certain that some people who have used it have used it hypocritically. But I'm just as certain that others have used it sincerely: with genuine ardor and sympathy for the cause. And neither of those acts is specific to this slogan. Any political or ethical utterance has, does, and will have people sincere about it & others merely paying it lip service. In other words: this isn't about grammar, it's about people. Outside of the "green=eco-friendly" metaphor, there's nothing unusual about go green.
    – Dan Bron
    May 9, 2015 at 14:17

3 Answers 3


As mentioned in the comments, green is a modern metaphor for environmentally conscious.

go is being used per definition #4 in ODO:

[NO OBJECT, WITH COMPLEMENT] Pass into or be in a specified state, especially an undesirable one

although in this case whether it's considered "undesirable" likely depends on your political persuasion.

In recent years, I think this sense of go has become popular in pithy phrases, as in the aphorism Once you go black, you never go back (meaning that once a white person has had sex with a black person, they won't be satisfied with whites any more), although the rhyme probably also contributes to the popularity of this example.

  • +1, I am getting a lot of clarity from the comments by DanBron & Anonym & DavidPugh. Your answer supports those comments.
    – Prem
    May 8, 2015 at 17:17

"Go Green!" means either "You should become more green", or "Team Green go!".

Dealing with the second version first, "Green" would be the colors adopted by a sports team and you would be encouraging them to win.

But "go green" in the first version is entirely different. "Green" is the color which, by convention, is associated with environmental concerns, and "going green" means to become more "environmentally conscious".

Depending on the context, this may imply simply trying to burn less gasoline, or it may imply divesting yourself of all "non-green" investments, installing a solar array on your house, and eating only "sustainably grown" food.

As to the syntax of the sentence "Go green", for the team cheer it's simply an inversion of subject and verb -- "[Team] Green go". For the enviromental exhortation it's an imperative sentence with an understood subject and verb -- "[You should] go green".

  • +1, I am getting a lot of clarity from the comments by DanBron & Anonym & DavidPugh. Your answer supports those comments.
    – Prem
    May 8, 2015 at 17:17

"Go Green" could also mean "go green with envy, extremely jealous" e.g. "Digsy's Diner" by Oasis. "...And then your friends will all go green for my lasagne"

  • In another direction, "green" could mean sick, nauseated. People could go green from my lasagna. Oct 31, 2017 at 3:41

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