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Why is cowardice (and treason) yellow?

Posted by Katherine Davis on October 09, 2000

In Reply to: Why is cowardice (and treason) yellow? posted by ESC on December 22, 1999

: : I found several sources that trace the association of cowardice and yellow to medieval customs and attitudes, but no explanation. (Judas is depicted in yellow, French traitors' houses were painted yellow, etc.) But why yellow? Was there a starting-point for this cultural phenomenon? Any color scholars?

: COLORS - According to Stuart Berg Flexner in "Listening to America," (Simon and Schuster,1982) ".'Yellow dog' had meant a worthless cur or mongrel by 1833 (yellow was first recorded as meaning cowardly in 1856) and a contemptible person by 1880."

: I had a vague notion that yellow for cowardice had to do with the ancient Greek belief that the body was made up of four humors - blood, phlegm, yellow bile and black bile. But looking back on my notes, I see that overproduction of bile was supposed to cause jealousy: "Why do we turn green with envy? Judith S. Neaman and Carole G. Silver report that 'green' and 'pale' were alternate meanings of the same Greek word. In the seventh century B.C., the poetess Sappho, used the word 'green' to describe the complexion of a stricken lover. The Greeks believed that jealousy was accompanied by an overproduction of bile, lending a pallid green cast to the victim. "Submitted by Tony Drawdy of Bamberg, South Carolina, in "Who Put the Butter in Butterfly" by David Feldman.

: Anybody else have any ideas on "yellow"?