The Meanings of Green

Green plant and pagan god
The Green Man and Vegetation

Green is no longer just a color. It's now the symbol of ecology and a verb.

Since the beginning of time, green has signified growth, rebirth, and fertility. In pagan times, there was the "Green Man" - a symbol of fertility.  In Muslim countries, it is a holy color and in Ireland, a lucky color. It was the color of the heavens in the Ming Dynasty.

Today's greens can be found in a wide range of objects: pea soup, delicate celadon glazes, sleazy shag carpet, sickly bathroom walls, emeralds, wasabi, and sage. The English language reflects some strange attributes: Would you rather be green with envy, green behind the ears, or green around the gills? (Idiomatic American English for extremely envious, immature or nauseated.)

Global Meanings of Green

  • Green is universally associated with nature.
  • Green symbolizes ecology and the environment.
  • Traffic lights are green all over the world.

Unique Meanings of Green in Different Cultures

  • In China, Green may symbolize infidelity. A green hat symbolizes that a man's wife is cheating on him.
  • In Israel, green may symbolize bad news.
  • In Japan, the words for blue and green ("ao") are the same.
  • In Spain, racy jokes are "green."

Luck or Bad Luck?

  •     Green is a lucky culture in most Western cultures. A green shamrock symbolizes this.
  •     You won't find many green cars at racetracks because they are considered unlucky.
  •     Circus and traveling showmen in Australia may consider green to be bad luck.
  •     An old English rhyme about wedding colors: "Married in green, Ashamed to be seen."
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fig leaf and green candy bar

Designing with Green

There are more shades of green than that of any other color. Greens range from yellow-greens, such as lime and avocado greens, to those with a blue tinge (such as emerald).  Aqua or turquoise are colors that are typically half green and half blue.

A range of greens

How Green Affects Vision

Color Blindness

Approximately 5% - 8% of men and 0.5% of women of the world are born colorblind. People who are protans (red weak) and deutans (green weak) comprise 99% of this group.

Some European countries have outlined certain traffic light colors so that it is clear which is green and which is red, by the color that has a rectangle around it. Some states in the U.S. have placed diagonal lines through green traffic lights as an aid for the colorblind.

Signage: Green vs. Red Exit Signs

gren exit sign in fire
Green exit signs have an important advantage when there is smoke in the air (in other words, when a fire is burning). With red exit signs, it looks like a fire - firemen have actually rushed into burning buildings and tried to put out the signs! With a green sign, people know it isn't the fire itself but the way to safety.

Not only should Exit signs be Green to correspond to the established International Standard for Safety Signs since the early 70's but they should also have the International Standard Graphical symbol for exit as given in ISO 6309 and ISO/DIS 3864 Part 1 and Part 2. It is time to consider that all exit signs should be the same throughout the world. Time to wake up USA and join the International Community. (

fig leaf and green candy bar

Color Consultation

Myths about the Effects of Green on the Body

  • When one sleeps on a pea-green pillow, it prevents baldness.
  • Green is the best color for pregnant women.

Tidbits – Points to Ponder

Feng Shui claims that green eases absent-mindedness, nervousness and rudeness.


More about green at Color Matters!

Why would a bride wear green? What about green M&Ms?
See Color & Culture Matters

Green brides and M&Ms

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