When I was very young, I remember my mother collecting S&H Green Stamps.* The stamps were green, they carried different point values (1, 10, and 50), and they came in perforated sheets, like postage stamps. When you bought things, mainly groceries, but also lots of other things, the merchant would hand you the receipt along with a row or block of the stamps whose point value related to the sale total.
Mom would get home and put the groceries away, and then she’d take out her little stamp book, which was made of thin newsprint-style paper with printed blocks where the stamps were to go. She’d use a damp sponge to moisten the glue on the stamps—because that glue did not taste good—and carefully place them on the pages. Then she put the book away in the kitchen drawer until the next time she had stamps to put in. As that book filled with stamps, it became ever more awkward, with crackly pages that fanned out broadly from its narrow spine.
Every household had those books, along with their companion, the dream book that showed pictures of the things you could get in exchange for full books of green stamps. Each item’s “value” was a number of filled books. Most of the items were small, and of lower values, like a set of dinner plates. If you collected for a while, you could aim higher and cash in for a toaster or a hair dryer. And then there were the real dream items, like a new dining room table and chairs, but I don’t remember anyone ever getting something like that with their green stamps.
* Sperry & Hutchinson began producing their green stamps in the 1890s, they went mainstream in the U.S. in the 1930s, and their peak of popularity was the 1950s and 1960s. Amazingly, the Sperry & Hutchinson company is still in business, and you can still go to their website to redeem books of stamps for gift cards.
Other splashes of green
The color green has long-standing meanings that are found the world over, and at the same time, like all other colors, there is a variety of other meanings associated with the color.
Perhaps since the beginning of human associations with color, green has meant life, growth, nature, freshness and renewal. Searching online, I found this information on Gizmodo: the word “green” comes to us from the Proto-Indo-European language (PIE) spoken from about 4500 BC to 2500 BC. :
“meaning ‘grow’ in PIE, it was ghre. Subsequent languages wrote it grene (Old Frisian), graenn (Old Norse) and grown (Dutch). In Old English, it was grene and meant the color green as well as young and immature.”
For thousands of years, the Green Man has been a well-known figure in many parts of the world, a being who represents life, renewal and rebirth. Examples of various Green Men have been found throughout Europe, the Middle East, and India and other nearby countries.
Green is generally recognized as the color of trust and also of health, which explains why pharmacies use a green cross. Pharmaceutical and nutritional companies use green to indicate safe and/or natural products. Green is viewed as a calming color, a color of peace, emotional balance and mental clarity.
Green is the color of prosperity, abundance, money, and wealth, along with the related traits of possessiveness, materialism and jealousy. There are particular shades of green that have long been associated with the military. And on a more mundane level, there’s traffic: while red is known worldwide as the color for “stop,” green is the universal color for “go.”
Green in different cultures
In Muslim countries, green is a holy color. In Ireland, it is the color of luck. During China’s Ming Dynasty, it was the color of the heavens, but in modern China, green can symbolize infidelity. In Israel, green might foretell bad news. In Spain, racy jokes are “green.” Green is considered an unlucky color at the race track, although we do have the deep green known as British Racing Green. We use the word “green” to refer to someone who is young, new on the job, naïve, or in need of training. We also use the word “green” to describe people who care about and take action on behalf of the environment.
Here are two myths about green: one is that green M&Ms are an aphrodisiac. The other (which may follow) is this helpful little jingle: Married in green, ashamed to be seen.
A few green things: a lucky shamrock (in Ireland); Earth Day (April 22); the television sitcom “Green Acres” (I had that theme song memorized); Mean Joe Greene, a great defensive lineman for the Pittsburgh Steelers; and when something is a certainty, we can say that it’s “as sure as God made little green apples.”
Verdigris is the green color that is created when copper, brass or bronze is exposed to the elements. It’s also a popular pigment, so it’s produced commercially by applying acid to copper. Verdigris came into the English language via French; it began as vert-de-Grêce and then became verte grez, referring to “green from Greece.” In modern French, the spelling is vert-de-gris, which translates to “green from grey.”
Green in usage
- green light : approval to continue
- green thumb : someone who has a good touch with plants
- green with envy : to signify extreme jealousy
- green-eyed monster : jealousy
- green around the gills : upset stomach, as in motion sickness
- the grass is always greener on the other side : something further away often appears to be better than what one currently has
- greenhorn : someone who is naïve, new in town, new on the job, etc.
- greenback : slang for American paper money
- green card: a permanent resident card in the U.S.
- greenhouse : a controlled environment for growing plants
Here are a some of the many words that describe greenness: emerald, jade, peridot, celadon, kelly, neon, bottle, aqua, seafoam, spring, grass, moss, sage, pine, forest, lime, olive, pea, apple, avocado, mint, tea, chartreuse, verdigris, army and the inimitable British Racing Green.
Green is prominent in place names. We have Greenwich, England (and the related Greenwich Mean Time) and Greenwich Village in New York City. There is the island nation of Cabo Verde and the large (mostly white!) island named Greenland. The United States has a lot of green city names; here’s a small sampling: Green Bay, Bowling Green, Green River, Greenfield, and Greenup, plus there is Mesa Verde National Park. I spent some time searching online for worldwide place names with “green” and its variations, but didn’t have much luck; if you have favorites, do let me know!
In closing, green features prominently during this season of holidays. Egyptians used palm fronds during mid-winter festivals. The Romans used holly in their winter solstice celebrations, and in January they used evergreen branches to bring good luck. Plants like holly, ivy and mistletoe have long been used to brighten and freshen homes during the dark winter days. In medieval Europe at Christmas, there was often a “Paradise Play,” and the Paradise tree was usually a pine tree with apples tied to it.
My thanks to these resources for ideas I used in this article:
– Color Meanings by Jacob Olesen, http://www.color-meanings.com
– How the Colors Got Their Names, http://www.gizmodo.com
New Year’s Day
Our year is ending, and we’re about to begin anew. In that spirit, I bring you the late, great George Carlin and his thoughts on the progression of life.
My Next Life, by George Carlin
I want to live my life backwards: you start out dead and get that out of the way.
• Then you wake up in a nursing home, feeling better every day.
• Then you get kicked out for being too healthy. Enjoy your retirement and collect your pension.
• Then when you start work, you get a gold watch on your first day. You work 40 years until you’re too young to work.
• You get ready for high school: drink alcohol, party, and you’re generally promiscuous.
• Then you go to primary school, you become a kid, you play, and you have no responsibilities.
• Then you become a baby, and then … you spend your last nine months floating peacefully in spa-like conditions: central heating, room service on tap, and then …
You finish off as an orgasm.
Happy All Holidays to you!