Yellow is a color. Every yahoo knows that. More specifically, it is;

The hue of that portion of the visible spectrum lying between orange and green, evoked in the human observer by radiant energy with wavelengths of approximately 570 to 590 nanometers; any of a group of colors of a hue resembling that of ripe lemons and varying in lightness and saturation; one of the subtractive primaries; one of the psychological primary hues.[1]

It may also be used in the negative sense as an insinuation of cowardice. I had a struggle in figuring out the etymology of this term. It seems to have been in existence since medieval times, when traitors’ doors were daubed with Yellow paint and heretics were made to wear Yellow clothing. Apparently it had something to do with the four physical humours of the body that kept everything in check. When one of these four (blood, phlegm, black bile and Yellow bile) went out of whack, you became ill or fractious. Yellow bile was associated with irascibility, peevishness, etc, and the steps from that to jealously, inconstancy and cowardice wasn’t a far leap.[2]

This is rather interesting. Today, we tend to associate Yellow with happiness, the sun, warmth and cheerfulness. Rarely do we hear people being labeled as ‘Yellow.’ That might also have something to do with the racist connotations.

So aside from the paradox of association, Yellow has been used in various ways in literature.

In Charlotte Perkin Gilman’s masterful piece, “The Yellow Wallpaper,” she describes in detail the mental degeneration of a woman surrounded by some hideous wall adornment.

The work itself is startlingly blunt in what it seeks to illustrate. Gilman, who suffered from mental disorders, or ‘nervousness,’ as it was labeled, was prescribed the ‘rest cure’. It’s a simple name and a simple treatment. The patient is allowed to do no work, have little company, and in general sit around and do nothing for a very long time. Enough to drive any sane person mad, and this is just what Gilman is trying to convey in her story. Gilman lived during rather oppressive times for women, and the story is heralded by feminists everywhere. Now I don’t care tuppence about any political ramifications, but I do enjoy the intricate processes that derange the human mind.

In the story (and I urge you all to read it for yourselves), the women, suffering from nerves and possibly hallucinations, is prescribed the rest cure and made to stay in an old nursery. The interesting thing about this nursery is the wallpaper. It’s Yellow, and she speaks of the, “recurrent spot where the pattern lolls like a broken neck and two bulbous eyes stare at you upside down.”[3] Very insidious is this paper.

I wrote an essay on this once, relating the wallpaper to a Panoptic prison system. I won’t go in to all that here, but if the story intrigues you, look it up.

Eventually, the woman becomes obsessed with the paper, and the imagined woman she sees in it. It overwhelms her with its presence. “ …the paper stained everything it touched, that she had found yellow smooches on all my clothes…”

Rather a horrid, unpleasant description of Yellow here. One may argue that the color is irrelevant in the story; it might as easily have been green or blue. But I disagree. I think Gilman chose Yellow very specifically.

But Yellow doesn’t always have negative connotations. As I mentioned previously, most of us think of sunny things when we think of Yellow. It’s becoming one of my favorite colors. I’m sure any observant reader will have noticed many of my pictures contain me in a Yellow cardigan. Mostly accidental, actually, but it is one of my favorite articles of clothing.

Sadly, I don’t have room to address every one of Yellow’s aspects. I could talk about mustard, and Yellow journalism, and ‘yello?’ as a common greeting. But I just can’t, and I’m sure no one really wants to know that much anyway. Trivial knowledge is only so useful in a world where no one plays Trivial Pursuit anymore.

So I will close with this song, a happier rendition of this intrepid color.


(Released by Coldplay in June 2000 in their first album. It’s really the song that shot them to the top of the charts and made them so well-known, especially here in the states.)


Look at the stars,
Look how they shine for you,
And everything you do,
Yeah they were all yellow,

I came along
I wrote a song for you
And all the things you do
And it was called yellow

So then I took my turn
Oh all the things I’ve done
And it was all yellow

Your skin
Oh yeah your skin and bones
Turn into something beautiful
D’you know you know I love you so
You know I love you so

I swam across
I jumped across for you
Oh all the things you do
Cause you were all yellow

I drew a line
I drew a line for you
Oh what a thing to do
And it was all yellow…



NB – I went back and found all the occasions where I wrote ‘yellow,’ and looked at the word for so long it started to seem foreign. Anyone ever do that? Say or read a word too much, until it seems just jibberish? I wonder why that is…I might do a post on this…



[1] Read more:




[4] Lyrics courtesy of