General English

Information & Library Science

  • verb to turn yellow when exposed to the light

Media Studies

  • adjective using scandalous or sensational material, often greatly exaggerating or distorting the truth


  • noun one of the three process colours (the others are cyan and magenta)


  • adjective cowardly, afraid. This now common term is of obscure origin. It is an Americanism of the late 19th century which was quickly adopted into British and Australian English. (In English slang of the 18th and early 19th centuries, yellow meant jealous and/or deceitful.) Some authorities derive the modern sense from the activities of the sensationalist ‘yellow press’; other suggestions include a racial slur on the supposedly docile Chinese population of the western US or a reference to a yellow-bellied submissive reptile or animal, but it seems more likely that it is an extension of the earlier pejorative British senses.

Origin & History of “yellow”

Yellow is a member of an ancient and widespread family of European colour-terms descended from Indo-European *ghel-, *ghol-, which denoted both ‘yellow’ and ‘green’. From it were descended Latin helvus ‘yellowish’ and possibly galbus ‘greenish-yellow’ (source of French jaune ‘yellow’ and English jaundice), Greek kholḗ ‘bile’ (source of English choleric, melancholy, etc), Russian zheltyj ‘yellow’, Lithuanian geltonas ‘yellow’, and English gall and gold. In the Germanic languages it has produced German gelb, Dutch gel, Swedish and Danish gul, and English yellow. A yolk (OE) is etymologically a ‘yellow’ substance.