• Reflective Resources

X is for Xanathic

What does xanathic mean?


"How wonderful yellow is. It stands for the sun." Vincent Van Gogh


Xanathic is an adjective meaning ‘of or relating to a yellow or yellowish colour’ It is from the French xanthique and from the Greek xanthos.


The word yellow derives from Old English geolu (also spelled geolwe) and Proto-Germanic gelwaz.


What is yellow?


Yellow is a primary colour (located between orange and green on the conventional colour wheel) opposite violet.


Yellow is the most visible colour of the spectrum and is evoked by light with a dominant wavelength of approximately 565–590 nm and a frequency of 510–530 Thz


How yellow can affect our mood?


“She turned to the sunlight And shook her yellow head, And whispered to her neighbour: "Winter is dead"." Alan Alexander Milne (Daffodowndilly)


I love Spring and seeing the first yellow flowers appear. There are a lot of yellow flowers locally and I also deliberately plant them in the garden as they really lift my spirits after a dull, grey, wet Winter.


“Daffodils are yellow trumpets of spring.” Richard L. Ratliff


Some of the first flowers to appear are greater and lesser celandines, primroses, forsythia, daffodils, dandelions, fields of colza, yellow archangel, crocuses, Easter daisy, gorse, Japanese rose (also known as miracle marigold bush) and later on in the year we have marigolds, black mullein (with yellow flowers despite its name), golden rod, fields of mustard, wheat and corn and sunflowers


“And the yellow sunflower by the brook, in autumn beauty stood.” William Cullen Bryant


For many people, yellow is seen as a bright and cheerful colour that has the effect of lifting spirits and invoking feelings of energy, hope, spontaneity and happiness but others can react negatively particularly when there is ‘too much’ yellow or certain shades e.g. excessive use of bright yellow (such as on interior walls) can sometimes irritate the eyes as can reading text with a yellow background.


As with all colours, yellow’s meaning is not necessarily universal, differences in our own individual life experiences or the culture in which we live in can lead us to have different perspectives and perceive different associations.


Yellow - Colour associations


Colours are like languages – they are used by everyone not just artists and poets to express mood, thoughts, feelings and personality etc and these expressions vary greatly so it is impossible to say that one specific colour has only one representation.


“Yellow is the colour which is closest to light. We associate the rays of the sun and the stars with it. It is the radiance of the spirit.” Ueli Seiler-Hugova


There are both ‘positive’ and ‘negative’ associations with the colour yellow.


There are a number of different factors that can influence colour associations, for example past experiences and cultural associations. Just like there are a myriad of shades of yellow, there is a similar spectrum of associations


Hope is traditionally linked to yellow. Yellow ribbons were worn as a sign of hope as women waited for their men to come home from war. The single ‘ Tie A Yellow Ribbon ‘Round The Ole Oak Tree’ by Tony Orlando & Dawn was released on 19 February 1973 and yellow ribbons have been displayed accordingly e.g. in 1981 the year which saw the end of the Iran hostage crisis.


The yellow ribbon is also used as an emblem for suicide prevention awareness, particularly for young people, in many countries including Australia, Canada, New Zealand, the UK and Ireland and the USA.


“Yellow is the perceived colour of sunshine. It is associated with joy, happiness, intellect, and energy.” Marcia Moses


Yellow is assertive, too.


“Yellow is a power colour because, when you think about it, what's more powerful than sunlight? It's nature's most un-ignorable colour.” Leatrice Eiseman (director of the Pantone Color Institute )


When we wear yellow clothes it is thought that we are making a different statement to others and ourselves than when we wear black or other sober clothes.


“In the world of safe hues, like black, red and white, yellow shouts: "Look at me. I'm happy!" Joy Sewing


I used to wear a lot of black but now I embrace all sorts of colours and one of my recent favourites is a deep buttercup yellow. I also consciously choose to put on yellow or bright cheerful clothes when I am feeling a bit out of sorts or low. It’s very hard to feel unhappy when you are wearing something bright and cheerful!


“There's something very freeing about yellow. When you wear yellow, you just have to go for it.” Mobolaji Dawodu


The following quote by Malia Andersson is also so very pertinent


“I used to believe as a dark-skinned girl I couldn’t wear yellow. Growing up I felt like I was too dark – and as I got older I started to think that I was too large to wear such a bright colour. It always felt like it wasn’t appropriate for me to wear. Then I realised how great it looks on darker skin tones. It wasn’t my skin tones or my curves preventing me from wearing the bright hue – I was just afraid to shine”


Yellow can be motivating yet equally cause discomfort


“Yellow wakes me up in the morning. Yellow gets me on the bike every day. Yellow has taught me the true meaning of sacrifice. Yellow makes me suffer. Yellow is the reason I am here.” Lance Armstrong


Yellow can illuminate but also obfuscate.


“Yellow is vagueness and luminousness, both.” Alexander Theroux


All colours have a flipside, an inverse ‘negative’ sense that traditionally opposes the more ‘positive’ one. Further around the spectrum, yellow is often associated with cowardice, deceit, jealousy, betrayal (the portrayal of Judas in dingy yellow clothes in old paintings) , physical illness (jaundice, malaria, and pestilence) caution and danger.


When there are large amounts of yellow, it can have a disturbing effect. For example, it has been proven that babies cry more in rooms painted yellow and that too much yellow causes loss of focus and makes it hard to complete a task.


It is interesting to note that the sources of yellow pigments are toxic metals - cadmium, chrome, lead and urine!


"Cowardy cowardy custard, You ate your father's (mother’s) mustard." was a chant I remember from the playground which was used to taunt those who were scared to do a dare or approach closer or do something. It has been used in various playground games and is a phrase that has been around since the 1820s (no I am not that old!) Equally calling someone “yellow” or “yellow-bellied” is the same as calling them a coward.


Fear has nothing to do with cowardice. A fellow is only yellow when he lets his fear make him quit.” Jerome Cady


Yellow is also linked with insanity or those who display mental extremes e .g. Yellow was said to be Einstein’s favourite colour. In Russia, mental asylums used to be painted yellow in the past so they are sometimes colloquially know as ‘yellow houses’


Van Gogh's paintings became increasingly yellow towards the end of his life. His ‘insanity’ was supposedly caused by lead poisoning because by holding a brush handle in his mouth, etc. i.e. he inadvertently ate his paints.


Studies on the effects of hallucinogenic drugs e.g. LSD have shown drawings/paintings by users contain much more yellow as the effects advance.


Thoughts about yellow from great artists themselves also differ :


Vincent Van Gogh's thoughts re yellow


"a colour capable of charming God,"

“There is no blue without yellow and without orange.”

“There is a sun, a light that for want of another word I can only call yellow, pale sulphur yellow, pale golden citron. How lovely yellow is!”


Wassily Kandinsky said


"a picture painted in yellow always radiates spiritual warmth" ,

“Orange is red brought nearer to humanity by yellow.” and

“The sound of colours is so definite that it would be hard to find anyone who would express bright yellow with base notes, or dark lake with the treble.”


but in contrast


Edgar Degas said "What a horrible thing yellow is."


so I guess this reiterates the idea ‘each to his own’ !


There are also stories written using yellow as a catalyst e.g. "The Yellow Wallpaper" by Charlotte Gilman Perkins which describes the deterioration of a woman's mental health while resting at a rented Summer country estate with her family. Her obsession with the yellow wallpaper in her bedroom marks her descent into psychosis from her depression throughout the story (before final escape) . Though many details are changed, the story is semi-autobiographical, drawing on the author’s own health crisis and particularly her strained relationship with her doctor (Dr Silas Weir Mitchell) who was brought in to treat her in 1886 because he had carved for himself a reputation for treating nervous exhaustion following his experiences as a Civil War doctor. In Charlotte’s own words, he drove her to ‘mental agony’ before she rejected his treatment and returned to writing once again.


Yellow is a central feature of the story The Wizard of Oz but here in contrast it signifies hope


“The road to the city of Emeralds is paved with yellow brick.” L Frank Baum


Uses of yellow/Why we use yellow on warning signs etc


Our peripheral vision is 2.5 times higher for yellow than for red. Yellow has a high light reflectance value and therefore it acts as a secondary light source. The human eye processes yellow first which explains why it is used for cautionary/warning signs and emergency vehicles in some countries.


The specific yellow chosen for signs is a bright yellow similar to the colour in nature of venomous snakes and insects to get attention (especially when combined with black it creates one of the easiest colour combinations to read and see from long distances.) This is why in countries like America school buses, taxi cabs, and traffic signs are painted yellow and black because a combination with black will create a high contrast and highlight possible danger clearly.


Yellow (or amber) is a colour used in traffic light systems and in signs indicating caution all over the world. E.g. Yellow signs also warn drivers of upcoming curves and (in association with black stripes) pedestrian and animal crossings.


The use of yellow is not universal however. Other countries code their warning signs differently (it is symbolized by green in Malaysia and red in the US and Mexico. )

Chromotherapy and yellow


According to colour psychology, as well as colours evoking certain moods or feelings they may even have an influence over our behaviour and general sense of well-being.


The meaning of colours are often still imbued with great symbolic power and ancient associations even with more recent developments in scientific knowledge. Yellow is said to promote happiness and optimism more than any of the other major colours. It is believed to have an influence on the left side of the human brain, and helps foster strong analytical thinking. Studies show that the colour yellow helps activate the memory, encourages communication, enhances vision, builds confidence and stimulates the nervous system.


It is not surprising that yellow symbolizes happiness, warmth and sunshine in most cultures; reflecting the characteristics of the sun and its effects. Ancient cultures, including the Egyptians and Chinese whose gods and nobility were associated with the sun, practice colour therapy; the use of colours to heal as a holistic or alternative treatment.


Just as the Five Elements Theory (of Metal, Fire, Water, Wood and Air) play an important role in influencing many of the Chinese beliefs and customs, the colour theory is also based on the 5 elements one of which is Yellow – representing the Earth: and within this late Summer and central direction. In this treatment, yellow is thought to stimulate the nerves and purify the body.


Yellow and advertising/ communication


Advertisers make use of the properties of yellow to not only draw attention but also to evoke a sense of happiness and to encourage us to buy their products. The symbolism of colours is an important element of visual communication particularly for designers/advertising because colour choices change the meaning of whatever is created. Our perceptions are influenced by the colours we see and the symbolism of colours, particularly culturally, and can influence our reactions or purchases so care is needed when trying to communicate through images or appearance.


Colour plays an important role in setting expectations for a product and communicating its key characteristics e.g.


When advertising long-lasting goods, yellow is not considered the best choice because it is thought to be an unstable and spontaneous colour.


In contrast children’s products and characters are often yellow eg laa-Laa, Spongebob, Winnie the Pooh, The Minions, The Simpsons, Pikachu,Tweety Bird etc


Men often consider yellow as “childish” so products such as cars, watches or smartphones are advertised with very little yellow.


When targeting products for different cultures, international marketers have to be aware that colour has a different significance and varies between cultures and therefore need to target their advertising carefully changing the colours for different audiences.


Yellow and cultural differences


Colour symbolism has changed over time. Between the 5th and 17th centuries, colour was largely related to a religious context but since then it has developed in many varied ways as cultures have developed and changed; sometimes implying several diverse meanings


In France the colour yellow symbolises evil, jealousy and infidelity/betrayal weakness, and contradiction and in the 10th century, the French painted the doors of traitors and criminals yellow.


In Germany and Russia it also represents envy/jealousy .


In Egypt yellow was worn to signify the dead and bright “marigold” yellow may be associated with death and mourning in some areas of Latin America too.


Yellow in Hinduism is the colour of Lord Vishnu, the colour of purity, victory, chastity but also sensuality. In Spring in India unmarried girls wear yellow clothes. Some tribes believe that the colour yellow has powers to keep evil spirits away. Yellow is also the colour of the merchants.


In some cultures, yellow represents peace.


In Japan, yellow symbolises nature and sunshine and courage and is considered a sacred colour in the Far East.


China associates yellow with happiness, high quality, trustworthiness, dependability power, royalty and prosperity but also it is symbolic of pornography in China and these adult movies are referred to as yellow movies (rather than ‘blue’ movies as in the West)! The list goes on...


Yellow and Religion:


Colours are also used in religious ceremonies or represent aspects of religion. In Hinduism, saffron is their most sacred colour. Saffron represents fire that burns our impurities. Its yellow represents knowledge and learning.


Native Americans include colours in religious ceremonies. The Navajo, Apache and Iowa Nation consider four colours to be important; they differ slightly but yellow is common to all of them


Yellow and Nationalism


Colours play an important part of nationalism both formally and informally, e.g. with reference to politics e.g. flags/national colours and in sport e.g. the Tour de France winner’s jersey.


A yellow patch was used to label Jews in the Middle Ages and European Jews were forced to wear yellow or had a yellow “Star of David” pinned on them during the Nazi era of prosecution.


Those condemned to die during the Inquisition wore yellow as a sign of treason.


Other phrases/meanings/significance of yellow


The term “mellow yellow” stands for being laid back and relaxation.


Yellow gemstones are believed to aid in clarity for decision-making, boost concentration, increase energy, and offer relief from burnout, panic, nervousness, or exhaustion


The phrase “yellow journalism” is in reference to bad or irresponsible reporting.

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The effects of yellow can be highly varied and complex; not everyone responds to yellow in the same way and people might have different responses according to how they were feeling on different days. e.g. if you have a migraine darker calming colours rather than the vibrancy of yellow is likely to be preferred


How does yellow make you feel? Do you associate yellow with certain qualities or situations?

The colour yellow can evoke a lot of different individual psychological reactions based on and triggered by our different backgrounds and experiences. , but there are also some more universal responses, e.g. the tendency to find yellow difficult to read


I have found this post fascinating to research and write and could definitely go on but will stop here for the moment and leave you with two links to finish.


I stumbled upon this TED Talk the other day entitled Be the yellow by Adam Peterson


Educator and ,presenter Adam Peterson poses the question


What if we could make the world a brighter, kinder place by focusing on something as simple as a colour?


Using his 6-Step process he encourages us to join a movement of kindness and connection that will make the world more Y.E.L.L.O.W. one person at a time.

You – need to make the first step

Engage – in a conversation -

Listen – to what others have to say

Learn – learn something about someone else

Offer – sincere compliments to others

We – as a community, society can make it happen


and finally for some yellow-themed music a reminder about a previous Friday music post

Rainbow music - yellow - lots of yellow music to listen to!



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