Red is the colour of extremities. It’s the colour of love/seduction on one hand, and danger/anger on the other hand. Our prehistoric ancestors saw red as the colour of fire and blood. In the Middle Ages the Pope and Cardinals of the Roman Catholic Church wore red to symbolize the blood of Christ and the Christian martyrs. Today red is associated with revolutions – it was the colour supporters of the French Revolution in 1789 wore to show their allegiance (wearing red caps called liberty caps). The Bolshevik Revolution in 1917 and the Chinese Revolution of 1949 also adopted the colour red to symbolise their struggle – which accounts for why today red is the colour of Communist Parties from Eastern Europe to Cuba to Vietnam.
Red was almost as rare and as expensive as purple in ancient days. Many of today’s intense red dyes come from crushed insects (the lac beetle and the cochineal). Red is one of the most visible colours, second only to yellow, which is why it is used on fire engines and stop signs to trigger alertness. Eight percent of the male population has a red/green colour vision deficiency and cannot see red at all. In 1587, Mary, Queen of Scots, accused of treason against Queen Elizabeth I, wore a red shirt at her execution to proclaim that she was an innocent martyr.
Mars is called the red planet because of the reddish colour imparted to its surface by the abundant presence of iron oxide. Jupiter’s surface has a great red spot caused by a mega storm. Red giants are stars that have exhausted the supply of hydrogen. A red dwarf is the most common type of star in the Galaxy – it’s also a comedy TV show starring Craig Charles.
Red hair occurs naturally in approximately 1-2% of the human population – it is caused by high levels of a pigment called pheomelanin (which also accounts for the red colour of the lips). Red is the most popular colour used on flags in the world (approx 77%). Red is the international colour for Stop! A red light district is an area of a town or city that sells sex and pornography. In Russia, the word for red means beautiful. Red October was a submarine in a film starring Sean Connery and not a particularly bad month of the year.
To see red is to be angry or aggressive. To have a red face is to be embarrassed. To paint the town red is to have an great night out, usually with a lots of eating, drinking and dancing. To raise a red flag is to signal that something is problematic. Like a red rag to a bull is to cause someone to be enraged. Bulls, like dogs, have dichromacy, which means they cannot distinguish the colour red – they charge the matador’s cape because of its motion, and not its colour. To be in the red is to be losing money, which comes from the accounting habit of writing deficits and losses in red ink.
Red Red Wine was a hit for UB40 whose lyrics are sung from the perspective of someone who trying to forget their woes. Red Rum was a champion racehorse who achieved an unmatched historic treble when he won the Grand National in 1973, 1974 and 1977. A red letter day is a special or important event, from the medieval custom of printing the dates of saints’ days and holy days in red ink. To lay out the red carpet or give red-carpet treatment is to treat someone royally as a very special person. To catch someone red-handed is catching someone in the act of doing something wrong. To be tied up in red tape is excessive bureaucratic regulation – in England red tape was used by lawyers and government officials to identify important documents. A red herring is a false clue that leads investigators off the track – referring to the practice of using a fragrant smoked fish to distract hunting or tracking dogs from the track they are meant to follow.
International companies who use red as their dominant brand colour include Coca-Cola, Ferrari, Virgin, Levis, Vodaphone, Adecco, Marlboro, McDonalds, KFC, Canon, Peroni, Red Stripe, Budweiser, illy, Santander, Vans, HSBC, Life (magazine), Lego, CNN, Kelloggs and YouTube to name but a few.
In US Politics red is the colour of the Republicans. In UK Politics red is the colour of Labour. In Western countries red is a symbol of martyrs and sacrifice, particularly because of its association with blood. Red is the colour of good luck in Asia and the most popular colour in China where it is traditionally worn on Chinese New Year to bring luck and prosperity. In East Asian stock markets red is used to denote a ‘rise’ in stock prices whereas in North American stock markets red is used to denote a ‘drop’ in stock prices. Red is an auspicious colour for marriage – brides in India and Nepal wear red saris; brides in Japan wear a red kimono for happiness and good luck. In South Africa red is the colour of mourning. In Thailand red is the colour for Sunday. In India red is a sign of a married woman. In Liverpool red is the only colour as any fan of Liverpool Football Club will tell you.
Still seeing red?
Mix up the colours – random colour psychology.