Your little sister just got the new iPhone, or your best friend got tickets to the concert you really wanted to go to. Maybe your brother met your favorite athlete or you had a friend that got to go to the Caribbean for Spring Break while you were stuck in the cold weather. Either way, you’re pretty jealous. In Spanish, they would say “Estar negro de envidia,” or, literally, I am black with envy. In English, we say I’m green with envy. Why the difference? I’m not honestly positive. Taken without context, they’re both a little weird. People don’t turn black or green, at least not when they’re envious.
While unable to find any background on the Spanish idiom (no idea why they use black), I was able to find some background on why we, in English, turn green with envy. The origin of the saying goes back to the early Greeks. The Greeks believed that when you were jealous, you were “sick” with envy. They thought that jealousy caused a person’s body to create excess bile, therefore leaving a green tint in the person’s complexion. In the seventh century B.C., the poet Sappho used “green” to describe the complexion of a stricken lover. Perhaps the most famous reference to this idea is in Shakespeare’s Othello, when he refers to the “green-eyed monster” as envy.
What’s strange to me is that now the color green tends to be a very good thing. I guess a lot has changed since the early Greeks. We hear all about “going green,” or being environmentally friendly. The recycling sign is green and we all strive for green grass and green fields and all things green. Green often also means money and therefore wealth, something valued in our society.