What colour are you? A focus on yellow

Yellow is between green and orange on the spectrum of visible light.

Thousands of years ago, a yellow ochre pigment made from clay was one of the first colours used in prehistoric cave art. A little more recently yellows were made from arsenic and cow urine, amongst other substances.

In ancient Egypt, the Egyptians used yellow extensively in tomb paintings. They used either yellow ochre or orpiment, a deep orange-yellow coloured arsenic sulfide mineral which was highly toxic. A small paintbox with orpiment pigment was found in the tomb of King Tutankhamun.

Yellow also became associated with Judas Iscariot, and it is from this connection that it became associated with envy, duplicity and jealousy.

Yellow has also been historically associated with moneylenders and finance.

In 16th century Spain, those who appeared before the Spanish Inquisition accused of heresy had to wear a yellow cape.

The negative associations continued into the 20th century in Nazi Germany where Jews were required to sew yellow triangles with the Star of David onto their clothing.

But as with most colours, yellow has different meanings in different cultures. In some cultures, it represents peace. In Egypt yellow was worn to signify the dead. In Japan, yellow stands for courage.

In parts of Asia, particularly China, yellow is historically the colour of happiness, virtue, nobility and wisdom. The first emperor of China was called the Yellow Emperor. Only members of the Imperial household were permitted to wear yellow. Distinguished visitors were honoured with a yellow, not a red, carpet.

In the west, research has shown that yellow is one of the least popular colours, with few people naming it as their favourite colour and many listing it as their least favourite colour (along with brown!).

However, it is particularly useful because of its high visibility. Yellow is the most visible colour from a distance, so it is often used for objects that need to be seen, such as emergency vehicles and taxis. It’s also widely used in traffic signs and neon signs.

Because yellow is great for getting attention it’s a popular choice in advertising campaigns, although can be seen as rather cheap and nasty. It is often associated with food and is used in children’s products and advertisements aimed at children. Perceived as a childish colour, it tends not to be used for adult or ‘luxury’ products.

Positive associations for yellow include sunshine and warmth, hope and happiness. It stands for freshness, positivity, clarity, energy, optimism, intellect, honour, loyalty and joy. Warm colours often evoke feelings of happiness and energy. Yellow is associated with cheerfulness and increased mental activity.

Yellow gemstones are believed by some to help decision-making, boost concentration, increase energy, and offer relief from panic, nervousness or exhaustion.

However, yellow also represents cowardice, deceit, caution, sickness, and jealousy. ‘Yellow-belly’ is an expression which means a coward. The term comes from the 19th century and is believed to refer to the colour of sickness.

If yellow is overused, it can have a disturbing effect. Research has shown that babies cry more in rooms painted yellow. It is thought that too much yellow can cause loss of focus and make it hard to complete a task, and it can cause people to become critical and demanding.

Traditionally, yellow ribbons were worn as a sign of hope as women waited for their men to come home from war. Today, yellow ribbons are still used to welcome home loved ones.

The term ‘mellow yellow’ stands for laid back and relaxed.

The phrase ‘yellow journalism’ is a reference to bad or irresponsible reporting.

In fashion, yellow has often been seen by women as a colour which does little for their skin tone or hair, making them look jaundiced. However, it is ‘on trend’ for 2017 and whilst it can be difficult to wear it makes a bold statement. Apparently it’s all about finding the shade which is right for you, with mustard, saffron and turmeric popular.

And finally, how many of us have tried the famous tongue twister ‘red lorry, yellow lorry’?

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