Black and negative feelings

All negative feelings are still associated with black. Gray, the colour of sadness, in combination with black, characterizes negative feelings that are more directed against themselves than at others.
Heller (1989)

Black-on-blue and the meaning of words with A-A-O vowels

The meaning of 600 Dutch words that contain the vowels A, A and O, such as in ‘vagabond’ or ‘catacombs’, were compared in several languages. AAO-translations of Dutch AAO-words were examined in Hungarian (HG), Italian (IT) and Spanish (SP). In a lesser degree were used: English (EN), French (FR), Old and Modern Greek (OG and MG), Latin (LT), Romanian (RH), Polish (PL), Serbo-Croatian (SK) and Turkish (TS). This research of F. Alpaerts (1984) shows a connection between the triplet vowels AAO, and the colour combination black-on-blue. Because some keywords are related, Alpaerts classified them into themed clusters.

  1. Attack: The direct physical violence. The threat to property (robbery, looting, mugging). The physical and psychological attack on the body (disease, infection by impurity). Psychic attacks (abrasive, rancor). Attacks on the social body: violating social purity rules (inappropriate behavior, swearing, sexual offenses). Attack on the culture (immigration, marginality, and poverty).
  2. Death (religious): The boundary of life (death). The dying (illness, diseased, weary). The abode of the dead (tombs, catacombs, cemeteries). The cult of the dead (Pharaohs, ancestor worship, funeral rites).
  3. Haggler (costly, money, wasteful). Fear of loss of property is agony.
  4. Border (maggoty, wasteland, abandoned, vagabond). Crossing borders, whether national, social, cultural, or regarding the body or property are associated with contamination and death.
  5. Braggart (make an impression)
  6. Rest and unrest (lying down, anchor, stampede, mass movement, large-scale events). Rest in the sense of lying down, doing nothing, either through illness, death, vacation, or unemployment. Doing nothing is caused by external factors that are considered a constraint. Unrest shows itself in major events that bring masses of people together: social commemorations, music events, war.
  7. Conceal (locksmith). That which lies behind the border or which one hides from attackers.
  8. Embrace. Not a loving embrace, but clamping down on property to protect it from robbers (see also Haggler and Conceal). Stuffed bag, or suitcase, money handle, safe.
  9. Contamination (dirt, rag, feet, contact with the ground). Contamination by touching contaminated objects, such as the ground, a sick person or a corpse. Contamination of the earth, of our bodies resulting in disease, of the social and cultural body.

Keywords classified in the DSD under the black-on-blue code are:

  1. assault, attack, biting, abandoned, curse, rancor, theft, thief
  2. ancestor, forefather, body, coffin, final resting, death, the end, grave, urn, graveyard, underground, undertaker, serious, secret, mystery, depressed, old age, disease, sick
  3. bill, costly
  4. border, boundary, bounded, beggar, wasteland
  5. tightwad
  6. mass movement
  7. concealing, digging, haze
  8. embrace, filled
  9. contamination, dirt, footprint (dirty), rag, waste, shoes

I. Michiels (red.)

Isolation and loneliness in colour
Semantic Colour Space, depth dimension.

The colours blue, green and black are the most commonly used in visual communication depicting isolation and loneliness. In the Semantic Colour Space these three primary colours are all located at the back. In the depth dimension this suggests a meaning with a strong focus on the inner world of thought.

The three primaries, in the context of isolation and loneliness, might express the following notions:

blue: corner, distant; space;
green: crossing, barricade;
black: stop, shut-up.

Three primary colours and their corresponding keywords in the context of isolation and loneliness
Blue-on-green in the Semantic Colour Space

In the context of being alone in a closed space the blue-on-green colour combination, and the semantically associated hue turquoise blue (blue-2), expresses a compelled isolation. In the case of Covid-19 for example, that would be a disciplinary measure imposed on citizens by the government, or self-imposed for fear of contamination. This situation for civilians could metaphorically be described as civilians chained to their homes.

Use of blue-on-green in combination with blue-2 in the Illustration by MARTIN TOGNOLA for an article in the Wall Street Journal “What Covid-19 Taught Us About the High Cost of Isolation” (April 10, 2021).
Blue-2 as a background colour. House locked in chain and padlock. Source:

When the emphasis of isolation is placed on the feeling of utter abandonment as a mode of a depressed mental state, the colour-combination black-on-blue and the semantically associated hue dark grey (black-1), is frequently used in visual communication.

Black-on-blue in the Semantic Colour Space
Black-on-blue for the book cover “A Biography of Loneliness: The History of an Emotion” by Fay Bound Alberti, Oxford University Press
Black-1 for illustrating “The physical symptoms of loneliness” article October 26, 2020, by Abacare Source:

In case the isolation is characterized as a trap or imprisonment, the colour combination black-on-green and the semantically associated hue olive drab (black-3) are best suited.

Black-on-green in the Semantic Colour Space
Trapped, a drama by director Richard Fleischer from the late 40s, rediscovered and promoted in the colour combination black-on-green.
Black-on-olive drab in the film poster for Trapped (2016)
Aspects of isolation and loneliness in the Semantic Colour Space

The Semantic Colour Space reveals the close relationship of concepts found in the colours of visual communication expressing loneliness and isolation.

Film poster for Caged (2021). Black-on-turquoise.

The poster for the film Caged combines different aspects of the idea of loneliness and isolation. The use of turquoise in the background conjures up the notions of chains and forced isolation. This ambiguous hue can be seen as blue-green as well as green-blue. With black in the foreground we can evoke the feeling of being imprisoned (black-on-green), and the presence of an ensuing depressed mental state (black-on-blue).

Inez Michiels

Rising composition and emotion

Simonds (1983) connects a rising composition with optimism, success and happy feelings, falling with pessimism, defeat and depression.