The Color Blue: What Does It Mean And Symbolize?

by Tolovaj

What is the meaning of color blue? How can it be is so rare and abundant at the same time?

What does the color blue mean or represents? This popular color plays important role in human culture and society, but recent studies showed we actually distinguish it from green only for several thousand years. Did you know owls are supposed to be the only birds which can see blue color? There are many phrases containing word blue and most of them are connected with interesting stories. For your entertainment we compiled a selection of most interesting facts about this color.

Here are top 10 facts about the color blue!

(All images are copyright free or used by permission of respective copyright owners)

1. It is the most popular color in the world.

Several studies showed blue is by far the most popular color in the world. This simple fact is independent of gender, nationality or political view. Yes, even Republican voters prefer blue to red (it is favorite of 33 % Democrats and 29 % Republicans)!

Here are some additional tidbits:

  • Men like it more than women (approximately 35 against 30 percent worldwide or 40 against 25 in Western world, where purple and pink are strongest contenders among ladies)
  • 53 percents of world flags contain color blue. It's only the third color (after red and white) by percent of flags, but second by area (after red again).
  • In 1950 around 35 percent of Americans had blue eyes. In 2000 this share is only around 17 percent.
  • There are 55 major shades of blue used in web design.
  • Blue, however, is not the most popular in all age groups: younger than 20 prefer green and older than 70 color red!

While new names of colors show up virtually every single day, we still need to start somewhere:

How many shades of blue can you recognize?

The reason of its popularity are meanings, associated with blue. Confidence, faith, loyalty, truth and wisdom are only few of them.


2. The 'youngest' color of all!

While we tend to think about abundance of color blue around us, it is actually pretty rare in living nature. Sure, we can say sky and water are blue colored, but until around 4500 years ago there was no word blue in any language in the world. Ancient civilizations in Greece, China, India, Japan and Latin America managed to flourish and collapse without this word. The only exception were Egyptians, who were also the only one  who knew how to produce blue dye. But their blue pigment was very expensive and available for special purposes only.

One of these was definitely painting of god Amon (name literally meaning 'hidden'), who was represented as invisible - in the color of the sky.


3. Blue is color of authority, communication and trust!

Thanks to its rarity and expensiveness, blue was for many centuries reserved for clothes of aristocracy (in many cases royalty) only. Artists were very limited with usage of blue as well. In most cases it was reserved for noble subjects, like robe of Virgin Mary.

In 12th century blue dye, made of woad, became widely available. Only few decades later the situation changed almost diametrically - blue became so common, Pope Pius V even excluded this color from the appropriate ones for church decor. The process didn't contribute to the reputation of the dye - woad had to be soaked in human urine for days and than left on the sun until the liquid evaporated. It was believed urine of men, who had drunk a lot of alcohol, worked as best solvent (we'll got back to that later).

Eventually blue was accepted as the color of all kinds of overalls used by workers in various industries, where dirt was part of the job. Grease and mud are not easily seen on blue canvass and this is how the term 'blue collar' originated.

4. The Economic History of Blue

In 16th century new trade routes brought indigo from India, which threatened to destroy pastel industry in Europe. Indigo gave the same color as woad, but much concentrated. Virtually all major countries in Europe immediately banned indigo just to be forced allowing it for purely economic reasons. Being so cheap and stable, it was only natural to use it for dying the uniforms.

Armies, navies (and later postal service, air forces, etc.) adopted it as the official color.

German chemistry industry synthesized indigo, which was much cheaper and pure than natural indigo dye (controlled by British) and this further lowered prices.

That improved the status of blue color for uniforms.


Today blue is still by far the most used color in services, where authority and trust are main characteristics. For same reasons blue is today official color in corporate world.


5. Feeling blue?

What the phrase 'feeling blue' means? It came from old custom among sailors who displayed blue flags at return to the port, if the captain died during the shipping. While feeling blue is unique for English language, this color is associated with sadness in many parts of the world. In parts of India, Iran and Mexico it's the color of mourning. Several countries of the East also connect it with immortality.

On the other hand a phrase 'being blue' (blue sein) means being drunk in German speaking countries. This meaning comes from the association of drinking with urinating and is connected with above already mentioned usage of urine of drunk men in production of blue dye.

6. What's Blues Got to do With It?

Why is blues music called "the blues"? The name of this great American music probably originated with the 17th-century English expression "the blue devils," for the intense visual hallucinations that can accompany severe alcohol withdrawal. Shortened over time to "the blues," it came to mean a state of agitation or depression. "Blue" was slang for "drunk" by the 1800s. The link between "blue" and drinking is also indicated by "blue laws" that still prohibit Sunday alcohol sales in some states of the USA today.

And what is blue Monday? Well, if you are not directly aiming at the popular song by New Order, it's a phrase with similar origins as 'feeling blue' and 'blues'. It describes a depressive feeling characteristic for Mondays, when workers need to return to work, but are (thanks to excessive drinking throughout the weekend - often starting on Saturday evening only) not really ready to. For this reason many workers didn't even show at their workplace on Mondays. Hangover was just too heavy for them!

Blue Monday by New Order

7. Something blue

This phrase, closely related to weddings, is aiming at bride's dresses and accessories. It's only part of longer "Something old, something new, something borrowed, something blue, and a silver sixpence in her shoe." Each line has its own symbolic connotation. Old is connected with bride's past, new with her future and borrowed with her friends.

Blue symbolizes purity, like we are used from old paintings of Virgin Mary. Her gown is a link between heaven and earth, representing love, modesty and fidelity. Sixpence is of course symbol of wealth.

Talking about old proverbs, sayings, songs and superstitions, we can't skip fairy tales, where color blue plays important role. We should mention at least Bluebeard with unusual color of his beard, what suggests he is not of this world, Little Mermaid, where color blue also represents other worlds (water with mermaids and similar creatures without soul and heaven, where Little Mermaid aims at) , and Blue Light, one of less known stories by brothers Grimm, where mysterious light of blue color links life and afterlife.

Today the most popular color for wedding dresses is white (with all white off tones) in Europe and North America and red in Asia, but due mix of influences we can find almost all colors everywhere. It's interesting to note white became popular only after Queen Victoria's wedding to Albert in 1840. Before that women simply wore their best dresses and it looks blue was the most popular color for centuries.

Blue is Color of Prestige and Extraordinary Events


8. Blue Blood

This well known phrase comes from spanish 'sangre azul', literary meaning 'blue blood'. Why? It was coined in time when the Moors controlled large part of Iberian peninsula. Interracial marriages were inevitable. Because Moors were of dark and Castiles of fair complexion, some Spanish aristocrats, who didn't marry with Moors, managed to keep their skin so white, blue veins were visible, so they could say for themselves they still have blue blood.

Blue blood phrase have two meanings. On one hand it is related with purity (not mixed with blood of conquerors), on the other with nobility (only aristocracy could afford to stay indoors, never exposed to sunlight, letting the plebeians do all the work. This expression was eventually adopted to other countries and is till closely connected with nobility and prestige.

Did you know blood of certain animals (arctic octopus, for instance) is really of blue color! The reason is copper's ion instead of iron's, which is more common in hemoglobin (protein, carrying oxygen through cells).


9. What is Blue Ribbon?

This expression originates in unofficial trophy given to passenger liner who managed to cross Atlantic from Europe to America with fastest average speed. According to tradition Blue Riband (this is original name) was given only to liners who passed the way from East to West, because thanks to Gulf Stream this way is more difficult. The phrase has even even older origin in correlation with Cordon Blue, riband of light blue color, worn by knights who were awarded by Cross of the Holy Spirit.

Blue ribbon is in 20th century still a synonym of high quality and is typically given to winners of different competitions, for instance in sport, but also in culinary or at certain fairs. Did you know the most prestigious colleges like Oxford and Cambridge are sometimes called blue brick universities? Yes, blue is official color for Oxford and Cambridge!

And what is the meaning of Blue Moon (or once in a Blue Moon)?

There are two definitions of phrase Blue Moon and both denote something rare or extraordinary. The original expression comes from old ecclesiastical calendar which typically has 12 full moons. Each one of them has its own name, but from time to time a year with 13 full moons (they occur every 29 days and a half) happens and this extra moon needed its name too - it is a blue moon. To make things a bit more complicated, this moon is by definition a third moon in a season with four full moons, what sounds too much for some people and newer definition was coined: blue moon is a second full moon in a calendar month.

You can expect next 'old' blue moons (third in a season) on May 21, 2016, May 18, 2019, August 22, 2021 and August 19, 2024. As you can notice, only few months (February, May, August and November) can qualify for a blue moon by this criteria.

Next 'new' blue moons (second in a month) will be on January 31, 2018, March, 31, 2018 and October, 31, 2020. It's logical this kind of moon can happen only on the last days in the month and there is no chance to have two full moons in February because it's just too short.

There are also even rarer occasion when a Moon actually looks blue. The reason for this are dust particles, which came into atmosphere thanks to volcanic eruptions.

10. Calm down with color blue!

Blue has a calming effect on human body, but stimulates creativity, what makes it an ideal choice for study rooms and offices. It's called the most productive color of all. It lowers blood pressure and slows down heart rate and respiration. If used in too much concentration, it can look too cold and should be used in clever combination with warmer colors.

If you are thinking about blue colors in your house, try to focus on light and more lively hues of blue.

The cool and calming effect of blue is widely used in all areas of life. It's color of cleaners, detergents and soaps. Cosmetics love it and pharmacy is fond of it as well. On the other hand, it's not popular in cuisine, because only rare foods are of this color. For this reason it's sometimes used as an appetite suppressant.

We could go on and on, but it's time to stop and give you a chance to say something about blue!

Updated: 01/17/2016, Tolovaj
Thank you! Would you like to post a comment now?

Is Blue Your Favorite Color Too?

frankbeswick on 01/21/2016

Thanks. This is just a theory.

Tolovaj on 01/21/2016

Interesting theory, frankbeswick. In our language we also have an expression 'to have black soul', what means he/she is evil, but I can't remember any negative connotation with color blue. You might be on the right trail.

frankbeswick on 01/21/2016

An idea has just come to me. In Gaelic, particularly the Scottish version of the language, an fear dhu [black man ] was used to suggest an evil person. Hence in Scots Gaelic the Devil is known as Donald Dhu, Black Donald. Calling black people blue people might have been a means of avoiding suggestion that their colour made them evil. But this is only a theory.

Tolovaj on 01/21/2016

I am not a linguist, so I can only guess ... Maybe it's connected with invisibility (black - night - not seen), or, like in our area, where people of dark complexion were named after the countries where they came from (za morjem - on the other side of the see)? It would e interested to find why blue and lack are changed in this particular case, frankbeswick. Thanks for opening this!

frankbeswick on 01/21/2016

Now here is an interesting point. In Irish Gaelic the word for blue is gorm [gorum] and for black it is dhu [doo.] But to say "the black man " you would not say an fear [far] dhu, but an fear gorm [the blue man.] Has anyone any idea why this usage might be so?

Tolovaj on 01/20/2016

Thanks, DerdriuMarriner, for stopping by. There is an interesting study about recognition of colors and development of words for colors in different environments. Black and white are always first color and red always follows them. While the order of other colors slightly vary from culture to culture, it seems blue is always last on the list.

It is believed it's last on the list in terms of pure survival. In many environments water looks colorless or green and several experiments showed primitive cultures still living out of civilization don't have the need to distinguish green from blue. Recognizing different shades of green is actually of much more importance to them!

DerdriuMarriner on 01/20/2016

Tolovaj, Blue and green are my favorite colors since I can't prioritize one over the other ;-D.
The ten points are all enjoyable, and particularly surprising in terms of associations with alcoholic overloads and withdrawals. Also, I tend to think of red as a favored masculine color, but come to think blues makes sense, with men liking to see blue on themselves and red on others.
It's curious that blue makes a late appearance in languages, isn't it?
It's all very interesting and nice, particularly this compelling section: "Ancient civilizations in Greece, China, India, Japan and Latin America managed to flourish and collapse without this word. The only exception were Egyptians, who were also the only one who knew how to produce blue dye. But their blue pigment was very expensive and available for special purposes only."
Thank you for the share!

Tolovaj on 01/19/2016

Thanks, Mira for your comments and suggestions. I intend to add some material later, and blue dresses are definitely on the list:)

Mira on 01/19/2016

I enjoyed all your comments, but those about blue blood struck me the most (you made some great points there!). Also those about the "blue devils." It was all very interesting. Thank you for sharing this article with us. I didn't know Amon meant "hidden." I could go on and on -- as you said ;-) Thanks for this!
P.S. By the way, there are some gorgeous blue dresses on Amazon ;-).

Tolovaj on 01/18/2016

You are too kind, cmoneyspinner::))

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