in the red


  1. any of various colors resembling the color of blood; the primary color at one extreme end of the visible spectrum, an effect of light with a wavelength between 610 and 780 nanometers.
  2. something red.
  3. (often initial capital letter) Older Slang: Usually Disparaging. a radical leftist in politics, especially a Communist.
  4. Informal. red light(def 1).
  5. Informal. red wine: a glass of red.
  6. Also called red devil, red bird. Slang. a capsule of the drug secobarbital, usually red in color.

adjective, red·der, red·dest.

  1. of the color red.
  2. having distinctive areas or markings of red: a red robin.
  3. of or indicating a state of financial loss or indebtedness: the red column in the ledger.
  4. Older Slang: Usually Disparaging.
    1. radically left politically.
    2. (often initial capital letter)communist: Red China.
  5. Older Use: Disparaging and Offensive. relating to, noting, or characteristic of North American Indian peoples.
  1. in the red, operating at a loss or being in debt (opposed to in the black): The newspaper strike put many businesses in the red.
  2. paint the town red. paint(def 16).
  3. see red, Informal. to become very angry; become enraged: Snobs make her see red.


  1. any of a group of colours, such as that of a ripe tomato or fresh blood, that lie at one end of the visible spectrum, next to orange, and are perceived by the eye when light in the approximate wavelength range 740–620 nanometres falls on the retina. Red is the complementary colour of cyan and forms a set of primary colours with blue and greenRelated adjectives: rubicund, ruddy
  2. a pigment or dye of or producing these colours
  3. red cloth or clothingdressed in red
  4. a red ball in snooker, billiards, etc
  5. (in roulette and other gambling games) one of two colours on which players may place even bets, the other being black
  6. Also called: inner archery a red ring on a target, between the blue and the gold, scoring seven points
  7. in the red informal in debit; owing money
  8. see red informal to become very angry

adjective redder or reddest

  1. of the colour red
  2. reddish in colour or having parts or marks that are reddishred hair; red deer
  3. having the face temporarily suffused with blood, being a sign of anger, shame, etc
  4. (of the complexion) rosy; florid
  5. (of the eyes) bloodshot
  6. (of the hands) stained with blood, as after committing murder
  7. bloody or violentred revolution
  8. (of wine) made from black grapes and coloured by their skins
  9. denoting the highest degree of urgency in an emergency; used by the police and the army and informally (esp in the phrase red alert)
  10. US relating to, supporting, or representing the Republican PartyCompare blue (def. 24)

verb reds, redding or redded

  1. another word for redden

verb reds, redding, red or redded

  1. (tr) a variant spelling of redd 1


  1. Communist, Socialist, or Soviet
  2. radical, leftist, or revolutionary


  1. a member or supporter of a Communist or Socialist Party or a national of a state having such a government, esp the former Soviet Union
  2. a radical, leftist, or revolutionary

Old English read “red,” from Proto-Germanic *rauthaz (cf. Old Norse rauðr, Danish rød, Old Saxon rod, Old Frisian rad, Middle Dutch root, Dutch rood, German rot, Gothic rauþs). As a noun from mid-13c.

The Germanic words are from PIE root *reudh- “red, ruddy” (cf. Latin ruber, also dialectal rufus “light red,” mostly of hair; Greek erythros; Sanskrit rudhira-; Avestan raoidita-; Old Church Slavonic rudru, Polish rumiany, Russian rumjanyj “flushed, red,” of complexions, etc.; Lithuanian raudas; Old Irish ruad, Welsh rhudd, Breton ruz “red”). The only color for which a definite common PIE root word has been found. The initial -e- in the Greek word is because Greek tends to avoid beginning words with -r-.

Along with dead, bread (n.), lead (n.1), the vowel shortened in Middle English. The surname Read/Reid retains the original Old English long vowel pronunciation and is the corresponding surname to Brown-, Black, White.

The color designation of Native Americans in English from 1580s. The color as characteristic of “British possessions” on a map is attested from 1885. Red-white-and-blue in reference to American patriotism, from the colors of the flag, is from 1840; in a British context, in reference to the Union flag, 1852. The red flag was used as a symbol of defiance in battle on land or sea from c.1600. To see red “get angry” is an American English expression first recorded 1898. Red rover, the children’s game, attested from 1891. Red light as a sign to stop is from 1849, long before traffic signals. As the sign of a brothel, it is attested from 1899. As a children’s game (in reference to the traffic light meaning) it is recorded from 1953.

Red-letter day (late 14c.) was originally a saint’s day, marked on church calendars in red letters. Red ball signifying “express” in railroad jargon is 1904, originally (1899) a system of moving and tracking freight cars. Red dog, type of U.S. football pass rush, is recorded from 1959. Red meat is from 1808. Red shift in spectography is first recorded 1923. Red carpet “sumptuous welcome” is from 1934, but the custom for dignitaries is described as far back as Aeschylus (“Agamemnon”); it also was the name of a type of English moth.


“Bolshevik,” 1917, from red (adj.1), the color they adopted for themselves. Association in Europe of red with revolutionary politics (on notion of blood and violence) is from at least 1297, but got a boost 1793 with adoption of the red Phrygian cap (French bonnet rouge) as symbol of the French Revolution. First specific political reference in English was 1848 (adj.), in news reports of the Second French Republic (a.k.a. Red Republic). Red China is from 1934. The noun meaning “radical, communist” is from 1851.

In debt, as in Joshua can’t keep track of funds, so half the time his company is in the red. This expression alludes to the bookkeeping practice of marking debits in red ink and credits in black. It survives even in the age of computerized accounts. So does the antonym, in the black, for being financially solvent or out of debt, as in Bill was happy to say they were in the black. [Early 1900s]

In addition to the idioms beginning with red

  • red carpet
  • red cent
  • red herring
  • red in the face, be
  • red tape

also see:

  • catch red-handed
  • in the red
  • not worth a dime (red cent)
  • paint the town red
  • see red
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