"blue"(English)=obscene. Why "green" in Spanish?

Wilson Gray hwgray at EARTHLINK.NET
Wed Jul 21 03:12:56 UTC 2004

On Jul 20, 2004, at 10:25 PM, Douglas G. Wilson wrote:

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> -----------------------
> Sender:       American Dialect Society <ADS-L at LISTSERV.UGA.EDU>
> Poster:       "Douglas G. Wilson" <douglas at NB.NET>
> Subject:      Re: "blue"(English)=obscene.    Why "green" in Spanish?
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> --------
>> We can all ascertain that "blue" was used in English since the
>> 1820's(and
>> before) to mean "obscene."  See Michael Quinion's excellent write up
>> at
>> http://www.worldwidewords.org/qa/qa-blu2.htm
>> A poster says that his Spanish teacher in High School told the class
>> that
>> in Spanish they use "green" to mean obscene.
>> .... Is the poster correct about Spanish?
> Yes. As for the fine semantic distinctions, I can only plead gross
> ignorance of Spanish.
> I find this sense of "verde" in the on-line Spanish Royal Academy
> dictionary from 1852 on, but not in the 1843 edition.
>> If so, why the color difference?
> I don't know. Compare also "pinku" = "pink" in Japanese which is
> somewhat
> comparable .... e.g., "pinku eiga" = "pink movie[s]" refers
> more-or-less to
> soft-core pornography as I understand it ... something like "blue
> movie[s]"
> in English.

If memory serves, "blue movies" featured what we now call "hard-core" -
sexual acts are portrayed in all their power and glory, not merely
hinted at - pornography, not soft-core. To acquire such a flick, you
had to know somebody who knew somebody who knew somebody. At least,
that was the case in Saint Louis, home of both a Catholic archbishopric
and the most conservative branch of American Lutheranism, the Lutheran
Church-Missouri Synod.

-Wilson Gray

> According to my naive and casual speculation, the Spanish "verde" =
> "obscene" may arise from a sense like "youthful"/"vigorous", thence
> "forward"/"shameless".
> Again from ignorance, I speculate that the Japanese "pinku" might refer
> simply to skin, or to blushing skin maybe (a less mentionable
> possibility
> which might seem superficially plausible to some is actually unlikely
> IMHO).
> The English "blue" is harder for me to explain offhand and I can't add
> anything to Quinion's piece right now.

Given that there was once a popular song titled "Alice Blue Gown," a
favorite of my grandmother, the wife of a presiding elder of the
Methodist Church - written in 1919 and still available on 78's down
into the early 'Forties - I doubt that there is any direct connection,
in US English, at least, between the wearing of blue gowns by
prostitutes and the use of "blue" as a synonym for "obscene."

-Wilson Gray

> Corrections are welcome as always.
> -- Doug Wilson

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