I normally invert an adjective, as in "a red flower" and "a car door". However, I have seen the use of "code red" in a situation of emergency. Why is that? I am also not sure if it is correct to "Standard ISO 14001" or "ISO 14001 Standard", "Blue Project" or "Project Blue". It is also hard to decide the posion when using verbs in the participle, like "the killed man" or "the man killed"?

Thanks in advance for your explanation,


  • I'm assuming by "invert," you mean you place it on the opposite side from your native language? For an English speaker, adjective before noun is seen as normal; it's noun-adjective order that is inverted. – sumelic Sep 18 '15 at 23:06
  • Also, as you've already noticed, adjectives, participles, and modifier nouns each act in slightly different ways, so it might not be useful to think of modifier nouns as being "used as adjectives," since they aren't, exactly. – sumelic Sep 18 '15 at 23:18
  • I talked about participle order some in an answer to this question: english.stackexchange.com/questions/257697/… another relevant factor for participles is the concept of whiz-deletion, which is a searchable tag on this site. – sumelic Sep 18 '15 at 23:21

code red doesn't mean a code that is red. There's no physical code, and it isn't colored.

What's actually going on here is that red is one of a set of names or labels for different code levels. code red is short for code level named "red".


"code red"

Expressions like this betray their military origin. They are so ordered for reasons of filing (originally in a paper filing system rather than a computer).

For example, if there is a store-room that contains items of clothing, the arrangement

Black shoes

Black tie

Black jacket

White shoes

White Jacket

Red tie

Red jacket


doesn't make a lot of sense because not all items of clothing necessarily have the full range of colours. Also we tend to store similar types of clothing together rather than matching colours. Therefore it is convenient to arrange them as follows:

Shoes black

Shoes white

Tie Black

Tie Red

Jacket black

Jacket red

Jacket white


In fact this idea is carried to extremes by the armed forces who completely reverse the normal order almost to comical effect. (I'll try to find an example)

Update: 19 Sep 2015

For once my Googling skills have deserted me. I have completely failed to find an example of the terminology used in a typical quartermasters store. I shall therefore make something up.


A list of army clothing, instead of saying something like:

"black boots for the use of officers"

would instead list them as

"boots, black, officers, for the use of"

Perhaps someone who has been in the forces can help me out with this.

  • Chasley, what does "betray" mean? – michael_timofeev Sep 19 '15 at 1:33
  • @michael_timofeev - See meaning 3 here --> macmillandictionary.com/dictionary/british/betray – chasly from UK Sep 19 '15 at 2:04
  • Maybe "reveal" s a better word to use. I think for most people, "betray" has the feeling of being disloyal. Also, your definition is the third listed, meaning it is not the most common understanding of a word. You can't cherry-pick the dictionary for what suits you at the moment. Just my two cents. I think if one is trying to communicate one has to consider what will happen in the mind of the reader, and I think most people will have to stop and think. Maybe betray has the more common meaning of "reveal" in Britain...Macmillan is a British dictionary...I use AHD. – michael_timofeev Sep 19 '15 at 2:16
  • "code red" seems almost completely different to me from "shoes black" (which I would expect to have a comma in it, anyway, like "shoes, black"). – sumelic Sep 19 '15 at 2:25
  • @michael_timofeev - If you will forgive me, the idea that I specifically read a dictionary before writing in order to find an obscure meaning is rather silly. The word is simply part of my vocabulary and I only resorted to a dictionary afterwards when you queried it. Let me explain. The sense of 'betray' I was using was 'to give something away'. To paraphrase, I was saying:- "Expressions like this *give away their military origin." I really hope you didn't downvote because of vocabulary rather than because of the answer itself. Of course you may not have downvoted at all. – chasly from UK Sep 19 '15 at 9:45

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