Views and Visions: Colorful idioms Part 2

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Continued from Part 1… White elephants are rare albino elephants that are seen as sacred and venerated in parts of South Asia. White elephants were sometimes kept by kings and queens to show their power and influence. However, they were very expensive to look after, and could be a burden on their owners. In modern usage, a “white elephant” usually refers to an expensive building project that is of little practical use and will be very costly to maintain. “The authorities have spent huge sums of money on facilities for the Olympics and Paralympics, but the minister denied the new stadium will be a white elephant.” The color gray is often associated with uncertainty. Imagine we have to decide what to do next in a situation, but the rules aren’t clear. We say that the situation is in a “gray area.” The idiom is often used to talk about laws. “It is legal to fire an employee for misconduct; however, what ‘misconduct’ means precisely is a gray area.” The colors red and black often refer to money. A person or organization is “in the red” if they’re in debt, or “in the black” if they’re financially solvent. In the past, bookmakers used red ink to show debts and losses when writing up accounts. “The company’s had a very bad year and is now ¥100 million in the red.” Finally, to be “caught red-handed” means you were caught in the middle of doing something bad, like committing a crime. The phrase comes from someone having blood on their hands after a murder. It can also mean a more trivial offense: “I caught my son red-handed with his hands in the cookie jar.” (Rob Horn) This article was provided by The Japan Times Alpha.

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