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To have the blues

Posted by ESC on June 24, 2009 at 11:38

In Reply to: To have the blues posted by James Briggs on June 24, 2009 at 09:39:

: I was asked recently why we say that someone has 'the blues' when they are sad. I can't find a really satisfactory answer - the best I've come across is in the on-line 1894 Brewers under 'blue devils' at
: Any other suggestions?

There was an alternate explanation from The Times in the archives:

I looked in "Blues for Dummies" and couldn't find an explanation of the name. Here's all I have:

Regarding "the blues" as in depression or the music, the "Morris Dictionary of Word and Phrase Origins" says it's believed this expression came from " abbreviation of 'blue devils' -- hallucinations, like pink elephants, popularly believe to accompany delirium tremens...the term blue in the sense of melancholy, depressed or despondent has been an element of slang, especially black slang, since midway through the past century..." "Morris Dictionary of Word and Phrase Origins" by William and Mary Morris (HarperCollins, New York, 1977, 1988). Page 73.

"blues n. 1905 (but known in jazz circles about 1895, perhaps by influence of early 'blue-devil' to make despondent, 1817), from earlier 'blues' low spirits, despondency , from the adjective 'blue' low-spirited, depressed, dejected (about 1385), as in the phrase 'to look blue,' originally to look livid or leaden-colored from anxiety, depression, etc. ." "Barnhart Concise Dictionary of Etymology" by Robert K. Barnhart (HarperCollins Publishers, New York, 1995). Page 75.

That last part was kind of what I was thinking. If a person is happy, he is up and animated. He is warm and rosy. A person who is blue is likely to be colder. Blue.