The Many Meanings of Red


The meanings of red and people’s reactions to it tend to be fairly consistent across all age groups and cultures. Psychologists and researchers agree that Red is a color which stirs up passion, with both negative and positive color meanings.

We think of Red as the color of both Cupid and the Devil. It’s the color associated with both Love and War.

Pure Red is the hottest of all the Primary Colors. It’s the most visually stimulating, most intense color on the Basic Color Wheel.

In fact, Red is so intense that people suffering from temporary blindness due to a brain injury will begin to perceive red long before they see any other colors.

Women seem to be more attracted to cool Reds which lean toward Violet. This range of preferences spans all the way from Cherry Red toward Magenta and Fuschia. When lots of white is added to these Reds to create Cool Pastel Pinks, the meanings of red changes dramatically. The subconscious and conscious reactions shift toward the soft and ultra-femininethe paler the tint becomes.

Men, on the other hand, generally prefer warm Reds which lean toward Orange.This range of preference begins somewhere near Tomato Red and goes all the way toward Indian Red and Brick. When Black or Grey is added to create Warm Shades and Tones, the resulting Reddish Browns are very earthy and masculine.

In my paint swatches above you can see how Red, a Primary Color can be varied by adding more Violet or more Orange. Each one of these swatches still belongs to the Red Hue family even though they’ve been mixed. The meanings of red can change quite dramatically depending on how intense or how light it is.

Notice also that mixing in more Orange makes the Red lighter. More Violet makes the Red darker. That’s before mixing in any white, grey or black to tone down the brightness.

When choosing color schemes be careful about how much Red you use. A little can go a long way. It makes such a bold statement at full strength. The meanings of red are so strongly ingrained that you’re wise to limit its use as an accent color. Or you can lower it’s intensity with other colors.

See if you agree with some of these popular color associations.

Positive Meanings of Red

  • Virility, Sex
  • Passion, Love
  • Heat, Daring
  • Boldness, Independence
  • Action, Dynamism
  • Energy, Speed
  • Attention Grabbing, Sexy
  • Fun, Excitement
  • Vigor, Vitality
  • Courage, Strength

Negative Meanings of Red

  • Danger, Evil
  • Aggression, Anger
  • Violence, Death
  • Blood, Martyrdom
  • War, Revolution

Meanings of Red in Other Cultures

  • In Russia Red symbolizes Communism and revolution.
  • In China, brides wear Red and it is considered a Good Luck color.
  • To most Asians Red means happiness and prosperity.
  • In India Red is a symbol of life-giving purity.
  • In the Middle East the color symbolism of Red is Danger and Evil.
  • In Greece Red is considered a dominant male color.
  • In Japan Red is considered a life-giving color associated with female reproduction.
  • In Christianity, Red combined with Green is associated with Christmas.
  • To some Native Americans specially the Cherokee, Red symbolizes the East and Sacred Fire.
  • In South Africa Red is the color of mourning.
  • In Amsterdam Red sells sex in the Red Light district, a legalized zone of prostitution.

Meanings of Red in English Phrases

  • The term ‘red-blooded American’ is often used to indicate patriotism.
  • People who are called red necks’ are considered ignorant and crass.
  • Being ‘in the red’ means being in debt and comes from accountants using a red pen for negative figures.
  • Being caught in ‘red tape’ means slowed down by unnecessary details.
  • If a criminal is caught red handed’ it means the evidence is obvious.
  • A ‘red letter day’ is considered a fantastic and memorable event.
  • To paint the town red’ means to celebrate and have a party.
  • Celebrity events often usher stars down a Red Carpet so giving someone the ‘red carpet treatment’ means making someone feel special.
  • Taking the red eye’ means flying overnight.
  • Communism is sometimes called the ‘red menace’ in much of the Western World.
  • ‘Seeing red’ is commonly used to describe people who are uncontrollably angry.
  • The planet Mars is referred to as ‘the red planet’.

Uses of Red in Popular Culture

  • In North America, Valentines Day is celebrated with Red cupids and decorations.
  • Retail items on sale are often called ‘red tag items’ and have red sale stickers.
  • Red traffic lights and stop signs indicate stop.
  • Fire Engines in many countries are painted Red.
  • OSHA Coding in Red signals danger, stop, and fire protection equipment.
  • The Red stripes in the US flag symbolize hardiness and valor.
  • The Canadian flag is entirely Red with a red maple leaf and two red stripes.
  • A baseball team in the US is called the Cincinnati Reds.
  • A rugby team in Queensland, Australia is called the Reds.
  • A hockey team in the US is called the Detroit Red Wings.
  • During special ceremonies Christian priests wear red robes to symbolize the blood of martyred saints.
  • In popular culture, the Devil is often associated with Red and has red skin.
  • Ancient Roman soldiers carried Red battle flags to indicate their power.
  • In Eastern philosophy Red is associated with the Root Chakra at the base of the spine and rules sexual energy.
  • In Astrology, Red is associated with Gemini.
  • A Ruby is the traditional gift for a 40th Wedding Anniversary.
  • Children love the fairly tale Little Red Riding Hood’.
  • Dorothy wore magical Ruby Red Slippers in the Wizard of Oz.
  • Movie titles with Red include ‘Red Dragon’, ‘Hunt for Red October’, ‘Reds’, the ‘Red Violin’, ‘The Scarlet Pimpernel’, ‘The Thin Red Line’ and ‘Crimson Tide’.
  • Popular songs with Red in the title include, ‘Little Red Corvette’ by Prince, ’99 Red Balloons’ by Nena and of course ‘Rudolph the Red Nosed Reindeer’ by Gene Autry.

Red in Nature

  • blood, raw meat
  • fall season, autumn red leaves
  • heat, fire, flame
  • sunset, sunrise
  • fruit such as apples, cherries, strawberries, raspberries, cranberries
  • vegetables like red potatoes, red peppers, tomatoes, red cabbage
  • red deer, red oak
  • clay earth, red rock
  • rust, ochre
  • birds like cardinals, orioles, robins
  • flowers like roses, carnations, poppies
  • jewels like rubies, garnets, carnelians

Uses of Red in Color Therapy

Just looking at the color red by itself has been proven by researchers to stimulate brain wave activity. For some people, it can even increase the heart rate and elevate blood pressure. And a pulsating red light can trigger convulsions in people suffering from epilepsy.

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Meanings of Yellow / Orange / Violet / Blue / Green