Exploring the Meaning of red ...

The colour RED creates a sense of passion and action. Its high energy grabs our attention which maybe one of the reasons why is associated with love and romance!  But the meaning of red goes way beyond red hearts and sports cars!  In recent years, RED has been used to stir emotion, and colour stories but also of course, to get us to spend more money!

That 'look at me' quality ...

Being the colour of blood, red is also associated with our most physical needs and our will to survive. The colour often seems to exude such a strong masculine energy. So maybe it’s not surprising that it has a stimulating effect on humans. Exposure to the colour red has been found to raise our heart rate and blood pressure, and raising adrenaline levels in many people. 

When we are angry, that increase in blood pressure causes blood to fill the capillaries in our faces causing our cheeks to flush red. Our body releases adrenaline, our fight or flight hormone. We may often describe becoming angry as “Seeing Red”. More subtly, our cheeks flush red when we blush with embarassment! 

Our response to colours so often seems to originate in biological functioning. In nature, the vibrant patterns of poison dart frogs help warn predators to stay away. And in reverse fashion red also attracts animals by serving as a signal of ripened fruit. 

To summarise:-

  • Energy: RED boosts our physical energy levels, increases our heart rate and blood pressure and prompts the release of adrenalin.
  • Action: RED promotes a need for action and movement.
  • Desire: RED relates to physical desire in all its forms – sexual attraction, appetite, cravings.
  • Passion: RED often indicates a passionate belief in an issue or undertaking, including love or hate. Anger arises out of passion..

Which ever way you look at it, the signals given out by the colour red evolved in nature as a survival patterning. That “Look at me” or may “Stay away from me” quality!   

Red Poison Dart Frog

Our language of Red ...

Of course RED is the English word used for this particular hue; other countries name it differently: Rouge, Rossi, Merah, Kırmızı, Akai, Ahmar, Pular, Coch, Vermello, Rautt are but a few. For entymologists who study the origin of words and how their usage changes over time, early Proto-Indo-European (PIE) roots showed up the word ‘reudh’ pronounced ruddy, akin to red. Indeed RED is the only colour for which a definite common PIE root word has been found and used as a noun since the 13th Century associating the word red with the colour RED. 

However thousands of years earlier, Prehistoric Art forms demonstrate the significance that early civilisations placed on the colour. Prehistoric humans venerated the colour red. The red ochre pigment and iron oxides that they used in their
cave paintings was believed to hold “life-giving” 
powers since they were seen as being precious magical gifts from the natural world.  Initially some 40,000 years or so ago, red seemed to be associated with women and fertility however it was clear that by 14BC it was being used to depict hunting, fighting and war as well to accentuate the female body! 

Throughout the world the colour red perceived in different ways. In China it is seen as a ‘happy’ colour and a sign of ‘good fortune’ and ‘long life’. Rituals such as baby naming to weddings also revolve around the colour Red. Similarly brides in India wear red but this time as a sign of purity, beauty and love.

On the other hand in the  Middle East, red represents danger or caution and is sometimes used with menacing overtones.  Often in South Africa is is seen as a colour of sacrifice and mourning, these days sometimes in association with black.  

Variations of the Colour Red:

Here are just a few of the hues, tints and shades that are described as falling in the red range. In the colour wheel, red falls between violet and orange. This represents so many colours such as vivid scarlet and crimson. Cerise and magenta move towards the violet end of the spectrum. Slightly darker shades such as maroon, carmine, claret, ruby and burgundy. Carmine, claret, cherry, vermillion and cardinal lie towards the orange end.   They have so many names!

But how do we know that the colour we are looking at is vermillion or scarlet?  Are these colours always the same shades no matter whether you are using paint for the house, lipstick or say a dress?

Since the internet, the way in which particular colour is always represented on a screen is consistent. You will be aware that all colours that we see, can be created by mixing primary colours. You probably know these primary colours to be RED YELLOW and BLUE.

However, these primary colours are only associated with mixing pigments say like you find in paints. When we start talking about light which is the area in which all colour mixing that appears on our screens takes place … ‘mixing’ light … the primary colours are Red(R) Green (G) and Blue (B)

We can be more exact that that, every single shade is prescribed by an RGB number which tells you the amount of each of those primary colours that must be mixed together to create a particular shade. 

You can find out much more about this subject by clicking here.