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[yel-oh] /ˈyɛl oʊ/
a color like that of egg yolk, ripe lemons, etc.; the primary color between green and orange in the visible spectrum, an effect of light with a wavelength between 570 and 590 nm.
the yolk of an egg.
a yellow pigment or dye.
Informal. yellow light.
Slang. yellow jacket (def 2).
adjective, yellower, yellowest.
of the color yellow.
Disparaging and Offensive.
  1. designating or pertaining to an Asian person or Asian peoples.
  2. designating or pertaining to a person of mixed racial origin, especially of black and white heritage.
having a sallow or yellowish complexion.
Informal. cowardly.
  1. (of a newspaper, book, etc.) featuring articles, pictures, or other content that is sensational, especially morbidly or offensively so: yellow rags;
    yellow biographies.
  2. dishonest in editorial comment and the presentation of news, especially in sacrificing truth for sensationalism, as in yellow journalism; yellow press.
jealous; envious.
verb (used with or without object)
to make or become yellow:
Yellow the sheets with dye. The white stationery had yellowed with age.
Origin of yellow
before 900; 1895-1900 for def 9; Middle English yelou (adj. and noun), Old English geolo, geolu (adj.); cognate with Dutch geel, German gelb, Latin helvus pale-yellow; akin to Old Norse gulr
Related forms
yellowly, adverb
yellowness, noun
9. craven, timorous, fearful.
Usage note
It is perceived as insulting to use yellow to describe a person of Asian or mixed racial origin, as in the terms yellow peril and high yellow. Unabridged
Based on the Random House Dictionary, © Random House, Inc. 2016.
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Examples from the Web for yellow
Contemporary Examples
Historical Examples
  • The yellow flood was now lapping on the ledge all about them.

    The House in the Water Charles G. D. Roberts
  • On their heads Were wreaths of crimson and of yellow foxglove.

    Poems Frances Anne Butler
  • Ethel Brown's had yellow flowers on it and Ethel Blue's had cornflowers.

    Ethel Morton at Chautauqua Mabell S. C. Smith
  • They were covered with yellow mud, and of course they were wet to the skin.

    Up the River Oliver Optic
  • Similar, but little or no chocolate in crown; yellow duller.

British Dictionary definitions for yellow


any of a group of colours that vary in saturation but have the same hue. They lie in the approximate wavelength range 585–575 nanometres. Yellow is the complementary colour of blue and with cyan and magenta forms a set of primary colours related adjective xanthous
a pigment or dye of or producing these colours
yellow cloth or clothing: dressed in yellow
the yolk of an egg
a yellow ball in snooker, etc
any of a group of pieridine butterflies the males of which have yellow or yellowish wings, esp the clouded yellows (Colias spp.) and the brimstone
of the colour yellow
yellowish in colour or having parts or marks that are yellowish: yellow jasmine
having a yellowish skin; Mongoloid
(informal) cowardly or afraid
offensively sensational, as a cheap newspaper (esp in the phrase yellow press)
to make or become yellow
See also yellows
Derived Forms
yellowish, adjective
yellowly, adverb
yellowness, noun
yellowy, adjective
Word Origin
Old English geolu; related to Old Saxon, Old High German gelo, Old Norse gulr, Latin helvus
Collins English Dictionary - Complete & Unabridged 2012 Digital Edition
© William Collins Sons & Co. Ltd. 1979, 1986 © HarperCollins
Publishers 1998, 2000, 2003, 2005, 2006, 2007, 2009, 2012
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Word Origin and History for yellow

Old English geolu, geolwe, from Proto-Germanic *gelwaz (cf. Old Saxon, Old High German gelo, Middle Dutch ghele, Dutch geel, Middle High German gel, German gelb, Old Norse gulr, Swedish gul "yellow"), from PIE *ghel- "yellow, green" (see Chloe).

Meaning "light-skinned" (of blacks) first recorded 1808. Applied to Asiatics since 1787, though the first recorded reference is to Turkish words for inhabitants of India. Yellow peril translates German die gelbe gefahr. Sense of "cowardly" is 1856, of unknown origin; the color was traditionally associated rather with treachery. Yellow-bellied "cowardly" is from 1924, probably a rhyming reduplication of yellow; earlier yellow-belly was a sailor's name for a half-caste (1867) and a Texas term for Mexican soldiers (1842, based on the color of their uniforms). Yellow dog "mongrel" is attested from c.1770; slang sense of "contemptible person" first recorded 1881. Yellow fever attested from 1748, American English (jaundice is a symptom).


"to become yellow," Old English geoluwian, from the source of yellow (adj.). Related: Yellowed; yellowing.

Online Etymology Dictionary, © 2010 Douglas Harper
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Slang definitions & phrases for yellow



  1. Cowardly; faint-hearted; chicken: Don't get into this race if you're yellow (1856+)
  2. Having light skin for a black person: You know that baker we hired. The yellow boy (1808+)


Cowardice; poltroonery; excessive timidity: Most often in the expression ''yellow streak'' or ''streak of yellow'': I'm afraid he has a streak of yellow in him (1896+)

Related Terms

high yellow

[the origin of the coward sense is unknown; perhaps it is derived fr the traditional symbolic meanings of yellow, among which were ''deceitfulness, treachery, degradation, the light of hell'']

The Dictionary of American Slang, Fourth Edition by Barbara Ann Kipfer, PhD. and Robert L. Chapman, Ph.D.
Copyright (C) 2007 by HarperCollins Publishers.
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yellow in Technology

A language from SRI proposed to meet the Ironman requirements which led to Ada.
["On the YELLOW Language Submitted to the DoD", E.W. Dijkstra, SIGPLAN Notices 13(10):22-26, Oct 1978].

The Free On-line Dictionary of Computing, © Denis Howe 2010
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