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Useful Notes / Green Is Blue

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"The strands in your eyes
That color them wonderful."
Edwin McCain, "I'll Be"

In English, there are eleven basic color termsblack, blue, brown, gray, green, orange, pink, purple, red, white and yellow. These colors are fairly consistent, each with culturally canonical hues, by which similar hues are usually associated — for instance, scarlet is considered a type of red, gold is considered a type of yellow, etc.

However, these color terms are not universal. Ask a Russian, and they might say that pink is just light red. They might also say that sky blue is a completely different color to ocean blue. In the Sinosphere — the regions that either speak one of the Chinese languages (such as China, Singapore, Taiwan, etc.), or have languages that incorporate massive amounts of Chinese-derived extended vocabulary and have historically made widespread use of Chinese written characters (such as Japan, Korea and Vietnam), these regions traditionally have the same word for both blue and green, indicated with the Chinese character 青 (or its simplified glyph 靑).note  Most natural and traditional uses of both blue and green are represented by this word, including the color of the sea, the color of forests, etc. In more recent centuries, there has arisen a greater need to distinguish the concepts that English-speakers would understand as blue and green. The newer compound Chinese character 綠 (Japanese simplified: 緑, Chinese simplified: 绿) came to use in Chinese, Japanese and Korean to specifically mean green as opposed to blue.note  Meanwhile, in China, the character 藍 (simplified: 蓝)note , has been implemented to phase out the ambiguous 青 as the definitive character for blue.

However, even today, these two terms are not universally distinguished as would be understood in English. For example, forests are still 青 (blue). Green eyes are also confusingly 青 — they were known to traditional Chinese civilization because there were ethnic groups on the periphery of their civilization (such as the Tocharian and Turkic peoples) who often had green eyes. And even green traffic lights are 青. But not all "natural" green things are 青 and not all "modern" green things are 綠 — for instance, gemstones such as jade and emeralds are 綠 (green). Perhaps most confusingly, even though forests and grass are 青 (blue), verdant flora is 綠 (green). In Cantonese, 青 usually refers to yellow-green or lime green more often than blue.

The Sinosphere is not the only place where languages often muddle the distinction between green and blue. This has also been observed in the modern Celtic languages (Irish, Welsh, etc.), where there is not only some muddling between green and blue, but also between those two and grey. South Slavic languages call blond hair blue; in this case, blue originally meant "fair", Similarly, older Italians lump orange in with red. Indeed, before about 1500, orange in virtually every European language, including English, was lumped in with either red (as with "red" hair, robin "redbreast"), or yellow/gold; the colour orange is actually named after the fruit, not vice versa. You can see this clearly in Spanish: the word for the fruit (naranja) is the root of the word for the color (anaranjado). Even in the Mediterranean, "blue" was historically not considered an individual color for centuries: texts like The Odyssey, for instance, describe the ocean as being the color of wine, which inevitably befuddles English-speakers used to associating that description with a dark reddish-purple.

One anthropological researcher had the idea of taking a green object and a blue object, and asking his test subjects "Are these two exactly the same color?" He had thought that the explanation for this trope was some kind of colorblindness. Naturally, however, they could see that they were different colors: of course the two objects are different shades of tscheng.

Recent advances in neuropsychological and archeological research suggest that the conception of colors in different civilizations depended on how reliably each civilization could produce dyes of that color on demand. In most cultures, the technology for manufacturing blue dyes was most difficult and came last and contributed to the conflation between blue and green. For more details, listen to this audio clip.

There are also cases, mostly cases in songs and poems, when both green and blue seem to fit when 青 is read. It might then be translated as either, as 'teal', or, if one wants to be poetical, 'azure' (as in the Azure Dragon).

For further reading, see Guy Deutscher’s Through the Language Glass for an in-depth explanation of this trope and its equivalents in other countries.


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    Anime and Manga 
  • In Dragon Ball Z, a Super Saiyan's eye color is usually greenish in the anime, but from time to time they appear blue in some Toriyama illustrations, as well as in some promotional media and certain isolated anime episodes.
  • The Yu-Gi-Oh! manga gave Bakura blue eyes while the first anime adaption gave him green eyes. The second adaptation (the one which made it overseas) said "screw it" and made them brown.
  • Yuno's drunken rant in Hidamari Sketch, currently Nonindicative Name's page quote, is about green traffic lights.
  • Eureka Seven AO uses both colors interchangeably. Not surprising, since the troublesome word that means both "blue" and "green" is right in the title, and it's the protagonist's name: Ao has blue-green hair, blue clothes, drives a robot that emits green contrails, and works for Generation Bleu.
  • Case Closed: Detective Takagi has been given several contradictory witness statements about a robber in the case Sato's Omiai. Some of his confusion is cleared up when he realizes that an elderly witness used the old word for "green" (あお ao) instead of the new word (みどり midori), and that therefore the witness had said that the robber was wearing green, not blue (as he'd originally thought).
  • Angela and Tata from Jewelpet have respectively blue and turquoise eyes, but belong to the Magical Green class (the attribution of these classes depends entirely on eye color).
  • Misty's eye color is very inconsistent in the Pokémon: The Series. Sometimes she has blue eyes and other times they're green. Since the switch to digital she's usually been a Significant Green-Eyed Redhead though.
  • In the anime adaptation of Ace Attorney, the three Signal Samurai which represent the colors of a traffic light are Red, Yellow, and Blue.
  • In Yona of the Dawn, which takes place in a pseudo-ancient, semi-medieval East Asian fantasy kingdom, there are characters known as the Blue Dragon and the Green Dragon. However, it's the Blue Dragon who is the focus of a story arc with the title translated variously as "The Lushing Forest" or "The Forest Lushing Blue." Aoku naru mori literally means 'the forest becoming blue,' but is understood to mean 'the forest flourishing with new, lush plant life.' The old word for green is used, to signify the double meaning: the forest is 'blue,' because it used to be the home of the Blue Dragon village.
  • This is referenced in Massugu ni Ikou when Hanako notices a green bug and wonders why it's called an "aomushi" (which translates to "blue-green insect").
  • In an early episode of Transformers: Cybertron, we see an actual traffic light (well, it's a robot in disguise, but still), and a slideshow presentation of a traffic light, and they're different colors.
  • Pretty Cure has traditionally been shy to include Magical Girls with green as a primary color. The lead protagonists are typically pink and blue, followed by yellow, purple, and red. Star★Twinkle Pretty Cure subverts this, though, with the counterpart to the pink Cure Star being the turquoise Cure Milky. Her Color-Coded for Your Convenience scenes can skew that shade into blue or green depending on what's required, and her transformation sequence prominently features both colors. When the predominantly blue Cure Cosmo is introduced later on, Milky's theme color leans more concretely toward green.
  • The 1999 Hunter × Hunter anime adaptation gives Kurapika blue eyes, which can look greenish in certain scenes.note 
  • In JoJo's Bizarre Adventure, nearly every member of the Joestar family is depicted with blue or greenish-blue eyes, though this is more noticeable in the anime where they're often differing shades. Joseph, for example, has turquoise blue eyes in Part 2, while his older self in Part 3 is shown with teal or aqua green eyes. His grandson, Jotaro, is sometimes depicted with either color.

  • The Odyssey and The Iliad never mention the color blue. It might be slightly odd, given all the sea-faring in the Odyssey, but this was because the ancient Greek language did not have a word at the time that meant 'blue'. Instead, the sea was called 'wine-dark'. The word that in middle-Greek came to mean blue (or blue-green, as the case may be) κυανό (where we get 'cyan') was used to describe the color of grass (i.e. what we would call green), as well as honey and the hair of blond people (i.e. what we would call yellow).
    • It should be noted that the color of iron, sheep and clouds were all likened to each other (gray, that is, not white) but the word used in Ancient Greek was the word ιοδνεφής that in later Greek came to mean 'purple' or 'violet'.
  • This trope causes a bit of confusion when it comes to translating Chinese epics; for instance Romance of the Three Kingdoms has a handful of translation difficulties, most commonly in trying to determine if Guan Yu's iconic spear is the Green Dragon Saber or Blue Dragon Blade. Since Three Kingdoms uses color prominently in its descriptions, this has led to something of a lack of consistency in translations as well as in derivative works.
  • Chinese poems are just… complicated, especially due to linguistic drift of Chinese itself. One verse of Remembering Jiangnan (憶江南/忆江南) by the famous Tang dynasty poet Bái Jūyì (白居易) uses (綠/绿, now the word for 'green') and lán (藍/蓝, now the word for 'blue'), the latter to mean a grass named "lán grass" that is used to extract green pigment.note 

    Live-Action TV 
  • In Tokkei Winspector, the heroes are meant to reflect the traffic lights. With that said, Walter was more bluish than greenish.
  • Super Sentai/Power Rangers
    • Similar to Winspector, Tokusou Sentai Dekaranger/Power Rangers S.P.D. has the finishing move of the main robot use a gun with three colored barrels resembling traffic lights... with the colors being red, yellow and bluish green.
    • And before them was robot policeman Signalman from Gekisou Sentai Carranger - or Blue Senturion from Power Rangers Turbo. He has a prominent traffic light theme ("fighting for traffic safety" being the Carranger motto), and is covered in red, yellow and blue lights.
    • Oddly inverted in Samurai Sentai Shinkenger. The Shinkengers are meant to be the latest descendants of five (later six) mystical bloodlines dating back to ancient Japan. Despite this, there are separate blue and green rangers even though Japan didn't have a concept of blue being different from green when they supposedly originated.
    • What makes this especially annoying is that the first ancient Japan-themed Super Sentai, Ninja Sentai Kakuranger, got this right. Not only did it omit the green ranger (the team colors being red, white, blue, black and yellow) but their blue ranger's costume used a greenish/cyan shade of blue in contrast to most blue rangers' deep royal blue coloration.
  • Count Takeshi's Emerald Guard wore jumpsuits that were far closer to blue in color than any shade of green usually associated with the name "emerald".
  • The three forms of Kamen Rider Accel are supposed to be based off of the three colors in a traffic light. These forms are colored red, yellow and, you guessed it, blue.

  • Amy Lee of Evanescence did an interview on Tokyo FM, and was complimented on her green eyes. This is where it gets complicated. It's been said that she has green eyes naturally, and wore blue contacts around the time of the first album. This interview was near the time of the second album, but in her childhood photos she had blue eyes. It gets really complicated, because in the Japanese translation, the DJ used the English loanword グリーン, or green.
  • Miku Hatsune's thematic color tends to fluctuate between any given shade of green or blue, depending on the artist.

    Religion and Mythology 
  • Qīng Lóng/Seiryuu of The Four Gods is called the "Azure Dragon", despite his element being wood, so one would think it would be colored green.
    • Wood is associated with air in Wu Xing (contrary to the Japanese "translations" listing Seiryuu as earth and Byakko as air), so you can either go along with Wind Is Green or simply see the Azure Dragon as a manifestation of the sky.
  • Brown is much more common a color for lentil stew than red. It's quite likely that when the Book of Genesis was composed, the two weren't distinguished in Hebrew.

    Video Games 
  • In the early days of Super Mario Bros., the color of Luigi's clothes was inconsistently portrayed as blue or green. It took a little while before the vivid green color became firmly established.
  • Fox McCloud from Star Fox is one of the better documented examples of this trope. In the 1993 comic, his eyes were green in the early pages, then blue through the rest of the comic. They remained blue in Star Fox 2. Star Fox 64 had a particular Art Shift that did not show eye color at all, but Farewell, Beloved Falco and Star Fox Adventures firmly established him with emerald green eyes. But this began to slip again in Star Fox: Assault, where most of the official art showed him with green eyes, but at least one picture not only showed him with blue eyes, but the blue faded to green within the same irises. They're green again in Super Smash Bros. Brawl.
  • In Style Savvy Fashion Forward the "green" color category consists mainly of teal colors. The colors most western players would call green is under "yellow greens".
  • Metal Gear:
  • The first Pokémon games released were Red (赤) and Green (緑), followed by a third version, Blue (青), containing slight improvements and glitch fixes. For the international release, Red and Green were combined with Blue's graphics and game engine and released as Red and Blue.note  The remakes are known as FireRed and LeafGreen worldwide, however.
    • This extends to the name of the player’s rival, known as "Green" in Japanese (which ties in with his family’s plant themed names, the fact that green and red are complementary colors, and the green rug in his bedroom) and "Blue" internationally.
    • Taken up a level in the Pokémon Adventures manga, where the characters Green (based on the aforementioned rival) and Blue (based on an unused female character who would later inspire the remakes' female player character) have their names swapped in English translations. A source of much headache in the fandom, as one might imagine.
    • Several Pokémon are listed as "green" in the Pokédex, when most Westerners would consider them teal: specifically, Bronzor, Bronzong, Golett and Golurk are all listed as "green"; this is especially unusual for the last two as they were designed by a Brit, James Turner (though the illustrator, Ken Sugimori, is Japanese).
    • Orange does not exist as a distinct color category in the Pokédex, with orange Pokémon being listed as either red or brown.
  • The Orange Star army of Nintendo Wars has red to orange units depending on the game and pink fatigues (they're called the Red Star army in Japanese, but —for some reason— this got changed internationally).
  • Final Fantasy:
    • Final Fantasy VIII's Overworld theme is called "Blue Fields". Obviously, the fields are green.
    • Final Fantasy XIV:
      • The first summon that Arcanists learn, Emerald Carbuncle, has a clearly blue body.
      • The Kojin beast tribe, native to the Japan-analogous Far East, are split into two factions, the Kojin of the Blue and the Kojin of the Red. The Kojin of the Blue are in fact green.
    • In Crisis Core, Aerith comments that Mako energy makes Zack's eyes 'glow blue like the sky'. Zack's eyes are blue, but the way she phrases it makes it clear she's referring to Mako energy itself, which is green.
    • In the 2015 trailer for Final Fantasy VII Remake, Cloud, who has been blue-eyed in every one of his other appearances and described as such in the text of the original game, has green eyes. In the 2019 trailer, this was reverted.
  • In Undertale, a can of hot chocolate powder in Undyne's house is described as a 'green cylinder' despite clearly being blue on-screen. Since the game was written by an American and pays homage to EarthBound and other '90s JRPGs, it's likely a nod to this trope.
  • The coin-op Super Locomotive has blue go signals.
  • The Japanese coin-op "Blast Off" has danger ("condition") alert levels of red, yellow and... blue.
  • In Professor Layton and the Diabolical Box, Anton Herzen has turquoise eyes in the official artworks, but they appear green in cutscenes of the game.
  • The "Emerald Butterfly" in Harvest Moon 64 is blue.
  • The conflation of blue and green in Japanese causes one line to come across very strangely in the English dub of Sonic the Hedgehog (2006). The word for blue/green in Japanese has connotations similar to the words "green" or "greenhorn" in English: someone who is a bit naïve and new to their position. When Mephiles describes the Iblis Trigger as a "blue hedgehog," Blaze's response is to look at Silver and mumble "blue hedgehog...?" The game isn't necessarily implying she knows Sonic: in Japanese, she interprets Mephiles' mention of a "blue hedgehog" as a "green hedgehog" instead, so she turns to Silver, a naïve (i.e., "green") hedgehog. The blue/green distinction in English makes this line fairly untranslatable in the context of the Sonic series (English speakers don't see Sonic as green, they see him as blue, so the wordplay doesn't work) without a lot more work that the game absolutely did not have time for.

    Visual Novels 
  • Torahiko Ōshima from Morenatsu is usually drawn with blue eyes, but some of the artwork shows him with green eyes.
  • Fate/stay night: Although the text says that Saber's eyes are green, she is more often than not drawn with blue-green or even just flat-out blue eyes.

    Western Animation 

    Real Life 
  • The point at which more finely differentiated color terms entering a language seems to correspond to the development of that culture's ability to produce pigments of those colors. Many hunter-gatherer cultures have rather limited color vocabulary (e.g. three colors: 'dark' (blacks), 'warm' (reds), and 'cold' (whites), corresponding to the earth-tone pigments available to them). Most Bronze Age languages (Mycaneian Greek, Zhou/Chou dynasty Chinese) did not have words distinguishing blue from green corresponding to a lack of technology to create pigments or dyes that were distinguishably either blue or green (an exception was Ancient Egyptian that, uniquely, had a word for blue and a blue pigment made from calcium copper silicate), by the Iron Age most languages had up to 6 distinct color terms including separate terms for blue and green.
    • Some of the oldest words for non-primary colors surviving from Old English — dun, grey, fallow, etc. — seem to be meant to distinguish the different colors of animal pelts or hides.
  • In Japan, "go" traffic lights are green, but art of traffic lights is blue.
  • The Russian language differentiates two hues of blue. They are siniy for dark, navy blue, and goluboy for a bright azure blue. For Russians, these are not considered merely different shades of the same color, but entirely separate colors from each other. "Green" in Russian, by the way, is zelyoniy.
    • Similarly, and respectively, Italian differentiates the blues as blu and azzuro, Greek as ble and galanos, and Hebrew as kakhol and tekhelet.
  • While the the color cyan obviously has its own name in English, it's more commonly referred to as light blue in English and most languages. This is odd as, from a physical standpoint, cyan (midway between green and blue) is as distinct from true blue as magenta (midway between blue and red) is from blue.
  • The reason why an orange-plumed bird or orange-furred or haired mammal is described as "red" is that the English language simply did not have a word for "orange" until comparatively recently. Anything of roughly the right hue was described as "red" as this was the only word English had. For example, robins are always described as having a red breast, despite the fact it's more of an orange or russet brown. The red fox, another orange-brown creature, is also seemingly assigned the wrong colour adjective, as are all "red-haired" people and "red tabby" cats. Our word "orange" was imported from French along with the fruit. The French likely removed the initial n because of confusion (une narangeune arange) and changed the initial to 'o' by analogy with 'or' (gold). Anything of that particular colour stopped being "red" and became orange, instead. But older uses persisted.
  • Inverted with indigo. This was part of an attempt by Isaac Newton to fit the visible spectrum to a classical musical scale, in which indigo and orange were the semitones and red, yellow, green, blue, and violet were the tones. The part of the spectrum he called "blue" was just the bright azure/cyan blue, while the deep blue part he called "indigo"; both then and now, indigo was not a common color term, and today most people learning about the traditional colors of the rainbow are confused by it, thinking that there is some distinctive color between blue and purple that is not a type of blue or of purple. Now it is common, although incorrect, to presume that indigo is a dark bluish purple, closer to blue than even violet is (by comparison, indigo dye, from which the color term arose a generation before Newton was born, is a distinctly blue dye, the dye now used in the manufacture of blue jeans).
  • To add to the confusion, the "green" light in traffic signals is deliberately mixed with a strong component of blue, to assist people with red-green colour blindness to distinguish between "stop" and "go" at a distance.note 
    • When experimental traffic signals which used an X as the "go" signal were tried out in London in 1967, the X was made white rather than green. Presumably, both these measures were to assist colour-blind motorists; but they caused more confusion than they prevented.
    • Traffic signals on London's Croydon Tramlink bypass this problem by using a white | for "go" and a white — for "stop". The rarely-seen "caution" signal (usually only seen where the trams run along the public roadway and thus have their signal mounted below a standard traffic light) is a white + with arms that are much shorter than those of the other two signals.
  • Heraldic tincture names (such as Azure for blue) are always spelled with a capital initial letter, so as to distinguish 'Or' (the metal, usually looks yellow though it means "gold" in French) from 'or' (the conjunction).
  • An anthropologist who studied Haitian Voudoun related how many rural Haitians see green and blue as a single colour category, leading to some confusion when they are possessed by a lwa or spirit who can tell the difference between the two using their eyes.
  • In both Irish and in Scottish Gaelic, gorm is a range of colours including blue and some shades of green, while glas ranges between green and grey. However, the exact cut-off point varies, with grass usually being described as gorm in Gaelic and glas in Irish. Both languages make a distinction between "warm" and "stark" colours as well, with gorm also including the warm uses of black (which in English might be described as brown-black or glossy black) in contrast to dubh covering the stark ones (i.e. pitch-black or ashen black). Thus duine gorm is someone with dark skin, while duine dubh is someone with dark hair (or someone literally made out of darkness). The difference between the two is generally Lost in Translation, which has resulted in dubh Irish people being traditionally but confusingly referred to as the "Black Irish", and ethnically Black people wondering why they've suddenly become "blue" in Irish. Wikipedia features a nice graph here.
  • And in contrast to the Irish and Scots (Goidelic Celtic languages), Welsh (a Brythonic Celtic language) shifted the word glas all the way over to blues rather than to greens, which are gwyrdd.

Alternative Title(s): Blue Is Green