Firstly, we employ one entity with which we are more familiar (called the source domain in linguistic terms) in order to describe or better understand another entity (called the target domain in linguistic terms). Secondly, in an attempt to describe something, we choose a specific entity out of a plethora of other entities, that is, our choice is not random. As a matter of fact, these specific entities act as the prototypes or the best representatives of a particular category. For instance, “sheet” is more typical than, say, a “cloud” or “milk”, which are both white but marginal members of the category white:
- His face was as white as a sheet.
Obviously, there is an association or a conceptual link between his face and the sheet, and this link is the color itself, which is called the ground. The other elements are called the topic (face) and the vehicle (sheet). To sum up, we use the color (ground) of objects or even abstractions (vehicles) to describe a particular entity (tenor). This cognitive process is called categorization.
Color similes are in most cases used to describe someone’s physical appearance: their face, hair, eyes, body, etc. Sometimes, there is a change in color as a result of a specific physiological, behavioral, or expressive response to particular emotions. This explains the whiteness of one’s face: he or she is probably frightened. The same can be applied to other colors as well, for instance, red. People’s faces turn red due to increased blood circulation in the cheeks when they are embarrassed or angry.
We will present to you thirty six color similes (eighteen English and eighteen Serbian) of the form (as) + Adjective + as + Noun. These are the similes which are syntactically and semantically the same. They are therefore called complete correspondents.
Similes with black/crn
- as black as coal: crn kao ugalj
- as black as a crow: crn kao vrana
- as black as the devil: crn kao đavo
- as black as ebony: crn kao abonos
- as black as ink: crn kao tuš
- as black as a raven: crn kao gavran
- as black as soot: crn kao gar
Similes with red/crven
- as red as a beetroot: crven kao cvekla
- as red as blood: crven kao krv
- as red as a peony: crven kao božur
- as red as a poppy: crven kao bulka
- as red as a rose: crven kao ruža
- as red as a ruby: crven kao rubin
Similes with white/beo
- as white as a ghost: beo kao sablast
- as white as ivory: beo kao slonovača
- as white as snow: beo kao sneg
- as white as a sheet: beo kao čaršav
Similes with yellow/žut
- as yellow as a quince: žut kao dunja
All of these similes are used in their literal sense because the vehicles appear in a particular color in nature. The only two examples that we would exclude from this statement are “as black as the devil” and “as white as a ghost.” These do not exist, right? Luckily, we haven’t seen them! So, let’s just say that we understand what these similes mean thanks to movies and cartoons that we have watched.
Even though English and Serbian have these similes in common, there is still a slight difference. Namely, some of these English similes can be used to form their own synonyms in the form of adjectives.
They are the following:
- soot black
- ink black
- blood red
- rose red
- ruby red
- snow white
Serbian does not have lexemes of this form. This means that when you translate these poly-lexemic adjectives from English into Serbian, you would have to translate them as similes.
P.S. This is not a finite list of color similes in English and Serbian, but only the ones that have the same form and meaning in these two languages.
Please feel free to tell us if there are any of these similes in your native language as well. Also, if you know some funny and interesting color similes from any other language, do let us know!
Languages of the world, unite! :)
- Kovačević, Živorad. Srpsko-engleski rečnik idioma, izraza i izreka. Beograd: Filip Višnjić, 1991.
- Kovačević, Živorad. Englesko-srpski frazeološki rečnik. Beograd: Filip Višnjić, 1997.
- Kovačević, Živorad. Srpsko-engleski frazeološki rečnik. Beograd: Filip Višnjić, 2002.