I found I could say things with colour and shapes,
that I couldn’t say any other way – things I had no words for.’

Georgia O’Keeffe

In my article of two weeks ago, I wrote about some of the research done based on the way in which we see and interpret colour; and in that article I focused on the colour red. Last week I focused on the colour orange, and today I’ll continue with the colour Yellow and how it has an impact on our lives. Yes, yellow also has a wavelength and a frequency, which Newton included in his spectrum of colours.

Colour represents culture, social customs, emotions, in homes, in art, in printing, design, web-sites, graphics. These days colour is unavoidable. Colours influence people through psychological changes. Certain colours are associated with certain feelings. Certain colours are associated with certain meanings.

Yellow is not a colour that you can create by mixing other colours together, unless you do it on your computer. In paint, if you mix red and green (both primary colours) you will get brown – ok a darker colour of yellow, but you will not get a bright cheerful happy yellow. It’s different on a computer as your computer screen uses three different colour lights – RGB (red, green, blue – all primary colours) – to display the colour range on your computer screen. Therefore you can combine red and green, by setting red to 255, green to 255 and blue to 0, and display yellow.

Yellow is a colour that shines, and it shines with happiness, enlightenment and optimism. Yellow is the colour of joy, idealism, summer, hope, air, sunlight, hazards, dishonesty, avarice, weakness, cowardice and illness. Yellow is also known as a ‘learning’ colour and advances from surrounding colours to instil optimism, energy and spark creative thoughts. Shades of golden yellow carry the promise of a promising future.

As a picture painted in yellow always radiates spiritual warmth,
or as one in blue has apparently a cooling effect,
so green is only boring.

Wassily Kandinsky

Yellow is a colour that stimulates our mental processes, stimulates our nervous system, activates our memory, and encourages communication.

Fear has nothing to do with cowardice.
A fellow is only yellow when he lets his fear make him quit.

Jerome Cady

Yellow is one of the oldest colour words in the English language, and has its roots in Proto-Indo-European language, which although defunct now is believed to be the ancestor to languages like Afghan, English Iranian and Greek. Etymologists (word detectives) believe that the word came into the English language from the word ‘ghelwo’ in the Proto-Indo-European language. From here it is believed that the word came into the Proto-Germanic language as ‘gelwaz’. Proto-Germanic is believed to be the ancestor to languages like Old English, Middle Dutch, and Old High German. Old English was spoken by the Anglo-Saxons and etymologists have found evidence that the word for yellow had become ‘geolu’ or ‘geolwe’. So the next time you say the word yellow, just think that it’s been in existence for at least 1,000 years and likely much longer than that.

ChakraElaine explains in her article that yellow is the colour of the SOLAR PLEXUS (and is also known as Manipura). This chakra is located in the stomach area, and is linked to the stomach, liver, skin, large intestine, muscular system, and solar plexus area. The solar plexus chakra is about vitality and will; and when open acts to empower a person and help them find their own personal strength. The solar plexus helps turns dreams and goals into reality. Gemstones that aid the Solar Plexus Chakra include amber and citrine.

How is yellow represented around the globe? In the Chinese culture, colour corresponds with the five primary elements, the directions, and the four seasons; and for this reason the Chinese have placed a predominance on the colour yellow that is not seen elsewhere in our world. In this the Chinese associate yellow with earth and the centre (in relation to direction). Yellow was the colour of the Chinese Emperors during the Ming and Qing dynasties. Huangdi is also known as the Yellow Emperor and is thought to be the founder of the Chinese civilization – the reason was this was the tremendous number of inventions that took place during his reign. During the 1357 Japanese ‘War of Dynasty’ their warriors wore a yellow chrysanthemum as a pledge of courage. In the Aztec culture, yellow symbolised food as it was the colour of corn – this was their primary food. In India, yellow is the colour of the Vaisyna caste (farmers), and also the colour Hindus wear to celebrate the Festival of Spring. Jews wore yellow armbands in Nazi concentration camps during the 2nd World War. Yellow signifies ‘jealousy’ in the French culture, and was used during the 10th Century to paint the doors of traitors and criminals. In the USA, taxi cabs and school buses are usually painted yellow. In the Greek culture, yellow signifies ‘sadness’.

In the Christian religion, yellow is seen to represent ‘greed’.

I really just want to be warm yellow light that pours over everyone I love.’ Conor Oberst

Yellow also has political party associations. Yellow is the colour of liberalism in many countries. The phrase ‘Yellow Dog Democrat’ refers to a person who is a hard-core Democrat. This phrase originates back to the Southerners who disliked the Republicans in the late 19th and early 20th Centuries. The people who use this phrase would rather vote for a ‘yellow dog’ than a Republican.

There are a number of popular phrases that include yellow:

  • Yellowbellied – a cowardly manner
  • Yellowdog contract – a contract which denies a person the right to join a worker’s union
  • Yellow Journalism – newspaper articles that are thought to be sensationalised in order to sell more papers. Today ‘yellow journalism’ means irresponsible, exaggerated, lurid, and even slanderous reporting. This is a definition that has not really strayed far from its original meaning. The origin of this phrase stems from the late 19th and early 20thCenturies when two newspaper owners tried to outdo each other with their front page spreads in pursuit of the highest circulation numbers. In these times there was no other way to get the news so if a journalist decided to stretch the truth a bit there was no-one to dispute their facts. It was in this ‘fertile soil’ that ‘yellow journalism’ sprouted. Today we don’t hear this phrase as often as the more modern phrases/words such like ‘tabloid reporting’ and ‘infotainment’, triggered by TV, cable, internet sources have become a great source of news than that of newspapers.
  • Yellow Jack – a flag flown on a vessel to show that it is under quarantine
  • Yellow Fever – a disease more common in the tropics, involving high fever and jaundice

There are a number of companies whose brands identify them with the colour yellow – Midas, Stanley Tools, McDonald’s – for example.

Yellow wakes me up in the morning. Yellow gets me on the bike every day. Yellow has taught me the true meaning of sacrifice. Yellow makes me suffer. Yellow is the reason I am here.’ Lance Armstrong

Yellow is used to represent caution and this is demonstrated in sports. In car racing a yellow flag is used to signal caution, where cars must remain in their current position when a yellow flag is shown. In football a yellow card is used to indicate a formal ‘caution’ for a number of offenses, which includes persistently breaking the rules, deliberately leaving or re-entering the field without the explicit permission of the referee, unsporting behaviour.

How is yellow represented in your garden? Yellow is also considered to be a warm colour in landscape gardening. Yellow in a garden has a stimulating effect. Yellow flowers come forward in the landscape and help to make the garden feel cosier. Yellow lillies make a bright addition to any garden. The complimentary colour for yellow is purple.

How does the colour yellow impact your sense of taste and smell? When we think about yellow in our food we think about fruit (lemons, bananas, pineapple, grapefruit, pears, yellow watermelon) but there are also many yellow vegetables (butternut squash, yellow peppers, potatoes, sweet potatoes, pumpkin, sweet corn, yellow tomatoes). Lemon was the original scent of the yellow coloured food colourings. Lemon peel, according to Scent It.com represents summer – a very strong, fresh lemon scent is very refreshing. The aromatherapy benefits of the scent of lemon is that it’s uplifting, lifts mild depression, refreshing, cheering, stimulating, rejuvenating.

Some interesting information about the colour yellow – yellow is:

  • Yellow is psychologically the happiest colour in the colour spectrum.
  • As we’ve seen above, a yellow flag represents quarantine in the medical world.
  • The comic book character, Green Lantern, was afraid of the colour yellow.
  • Yellow is the colour that means ‘elevated’ in the colour codes threat system. This quickly informs law enforcement agencies when intelligence indicates a change in the level of terrorist threats that face the USA.
  • 75% of the pencils sold in the USA are painted yellow. The reason for this is that since the late 19thCentury the best graphite in the world came from China; where yellow is associated with royalty and respect. Therefore the American pencil manufacturers began painting their pencils yellow to communicate this regal feeling. It’s not just to allow you to find your pencil on your desk more easily … although it does help.
  • Yellow Crystals include amber, calcite, cat’s eye, citrine, fluorite, golden beryl, golden yellow topaz, golden tiger eye, iron pyrite, lemon chryoprase, yellow celestite, yellow danburite, yellow garnet, yellow jade, yellow jasper, yellow kunzite, yellow muscovite, yellow rhodonite, yellow sapphire, yellow tourmaline.

Driving a yellow vehicle gives a clear but unspoken message to the rest of the world – it says that you have a ‘sunny disposition’, are ‘joyful’ and ‘young-at-heart’. If your car is a yellow-gold you give a different impression – ‘intelligent’, ‘warm’, and ‘loves comfort and will pay for it’..

Reds, yellows, and oranges conjure up sunlight and fire, while the blues and blue-greens evoke snow and ice, sea, sky and moonlight’’ Anonymous

When you think of a Ferrari automatically you think of Ferrari red, but think about the Ferrari logo which is the Prancing Horse on a yellow background. I found myself wondering about this and in researching this logo found that the reason it was on a yellow background is because Enzo Ferrari added the yellow background as it was the colour of his birthplace – Modena. More recently you will see more yellow Ferrari’s on the road. Rather than the vibrant, high-energy and sexy emotions brought about by a red Ferrari we are now seeing cars that bring joy and happy emotions to the fore. I wonder if it’s because the people driving Ferrari’s want to be known as ‘young at heart’ or are a younger generation? I know that I’ve thought about buying a yellow car, but to date I haven’t been brave enough – maybe my next one will be?

Mere colour, unspoilt by meaning, and unallied with definite form,
can speak to the soul in a thousand different ways.’

Oscar Wilde

© 2011 Barbara J. Cormack
First published under Cormack’s Capers in Magna Intuitum