Wednesday, February 22, 2012

It Ain't Easy Being Green

I think it's safe to say that, generally, we don't think about colours. I don't mean in the fashion way, but more in the "why do we attribute so  much meaning to them" way. For example, science says that both men[1] and women[2] are more likely to go after people who are wearing red. The study showed that even pictures of the same people were rated as hotter if they were wearing red. The reasoning seems to be that men find red on women sexier, taking the colour as an implicit tendency towards sexuality, whereas women were apprently turned on by red because it represents power. Go figure - science, supporting cultural stereotypes!

But, alas, I'm not here to talk to you about the colour red. I'm here to talk about the colour green, in all of its multi-faceted confusion.

What do you think of when I say green?

Spring and renewal? Decay and sickness? With envy? Maybe you think of "being green" or environmentally friendly (thanks Green Party and Greepeace). Or maybe of wealth, "I'm in the green!" (thanks, American dollar). Also, green is the sign of being in the clear (stoplights, stock-market, etc.) as opposed to "being in the red" (bad). But, again, I'm not here to talk about red.
None of you would be wrong. It turns out that green, from what I can tell, is by far the most confusing colour ever. It represents, in some cases, complete, fundamental opposites.

It may be pretty obvious to you why green is associated with renewal and cleanliness - and if it isn't obvious, let me explain. In spring, things (RE: plants) turn green again, becoming fresh and new. That's it. Glad I could clear that up for you.

Now, while it may also seem obvious about green being associated with death, decay and sickness, not all of it is as clear as you might think. The obvious parts are that a decaying anything turns green in some way - old fruit goes green (and fuzzy), etc. When someone is sick, they take on a greenish pallor. Seems straightforward, right? Well, here is where things take a turn for the creepy and weird.
One of the reasons green is associated with death isn't just because of the sickness pallor or mould, but because of graveyards. 

Back in the days before proper embalming practices and sealed coffin burial were introduced, you were pretty much just thrown into a hole in the ground unless you were rich. Sure, you got a nice pine box or some such, but it wasn't exactly high quality wood - not like the Caddilac coffins we get now. Snazzy. Anyway, the biggest side effect of throwing numerous decomposing bodies into holes in and around the same area were the gasses. Sure, the smell was gone - that's why they bury you six feet down, so your body-stink doesn't infest the rest of the graveyard - but the gases still pile up. These gases would seep through the soil to the top.
Have you ever seen a horror film with a scene set in graveyard and it's all misty? Well picture that, but in the moonlight, it was green. I'm not kidding. The light reflected off of the stink-gases were literally cause a greenish glow around the graveyard. Thus, green was forever associated with death, decay, sickness and technically, the occult.

So, I hear you cry, from whence does the term "green with envy" come? Well, now that you know all that stuff above, it's relatively simple. There are a few explanations for the use of green's association with envy, some biblical, some Shakespearian. All pretty much the same. 

In the Bible, they're pretty clear that envy (or "coveting") is a pretty bad thing. In the Middle Eastern region, stemming from ancient times, given that light-coloured eyed people were quite rare, they were said to carry the Evil Eye[3]. So, anyone with green or blue eyes was bad luck. There was also an original Hebrew term that spawned the modern "green with envy" and that was horik panav ke-neged which meant "to be green with anger at someone"[4]. The Greeks believed envy was a result of an overproduction of bile, leading to a greenish pallor in the skin during sickness and interchanged the words "green" and "pale" to mean sickly[5]. The European medical idea of the Humours didn't differ much from this. Seeing as envy was seen as a sickness, they associated it with the same colour. Shakespeare even anthropomorphised it in Othello, “O! Beware my lord, of jealousy; it is the green-ey’d monster which doth mock the meat it feeds on". And in Anthony and Cleopatra, "…and Lepidus, since Pompey's feast, as Menas says, is troubled with the green sickness".  And in The Merchant of Venice, "How all the other passions fleet to air, as doubtful thoughts and rash embraced despair and shuddering fear and green-eyed jealousy".

There you have it. green represents life and death, wellness and sickness, renewal and decay. And envy. See, I even did research. There. Everything you (n)ever wanted to learn about green, but were too afraid to ask.

[1] "Red Enhances Men's Attraction To Women, Psychological Study Reveals", October 28, 2008 and "Wearing Red 'Boosts Attraction'",, October 28, 2008. Referencing a study from the University of Rochester published October 28, 2008 in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology.

[2] "Women Prefer Men in Red, Study Shows", August 6, 2010 and "Women Attracted Men in Red, Research Shows", August 3, 2010. Referencing a study published in the Journal of Experimental Psychology: General on August 2, 2010 by the University of Rochester.
[3] Cora Lynn Daniels, et al., covers this in Encyclopædia of Superstitions, Folklore, and the Occult Sciences of the World (Volume III), p. 1273, University Press of the Pacific, Honolulu.
[4] "Color: The Kaleidoscope of Human Emotion", Jewish Heritage Online Magazine, referencing Judges 5:30.
[5] Feldman, David Who Put the Butter in Butterfly?, HarperPerennial; 1st Perennial Library Edition February 19, 1990.

No comments:

Post a Comment