July 17:  Psychedelic Idioms Day

Today is the anniversary of the 1968 release of the Beatles’ animated film Yellow Submarine. To many filmgoers the psychedelic animation and upbeat music of the film were a welcome respite from the turbulent events of 1968: the Vietnam War and the assassinations of Martin Luther King, Jr. and Robert Kennedy.

Beatles Yellow Submarine move poster.jpgIronically the Beatles themselves had very little to do with the film; in fact, all the dialogue for John, Paul, George, and Ringo was recorded by actors; thankfully, however, the songs were recorded by the actual Beatles. After seeing the finished version of the film, the Beatles agreed to make a brief non-animated appearance at the end of the film.

When the film was re-released in 1999 on DVD, reviewer Roger Ebert commented that the film had more than just visual appeal:

This is a story that appeals even to young children, but it also has a knowing, funny style that adds an undertow of sophistication . . . . [T]he overall tone is the one struck by John Lennon in his books ‘In His Own Write’ and ‘A Spaniard in the Works.’ Puns, drolleries, whimsies and asides meander through the sentences:

“There’s a cyclops! He’s got two eyes. Must be a bicyclops. It’s a whole bicloplopedia!” (1)

The 1950s was the decade of the missile gap, but the 1960s — especially the late 1960s — was the decade of the generation gap. Flower power and the flower children stood for peace and love. The word psychedelic first appeared in the 1950s to mean, according to the book 20th Century Words: “(A drug) producing an expansion of consciousness through greater awareness of the senses and emotional feelings . . . .” Its meaning later broadened to denote the “vivid colors, often in bold abstract designs or in motion” (2). With the explosion of colors in films like Yellow Submarine, psychedelic became one of the words that characterized the 1960s landscape.

Change also characterized the landscape of the 1960s, and a chronology of words that first appeared in print in that decade provides insight into some of those changes. Here is a list of other words that were children of the ’60s:

global village (1960)

DJ (1961)

lite (1962)

Beatlemania (1963)

BASIC (1964)

hypertext (1965)

body language (1966)

generation gap (1967)

reggae (1968)

orchestrate (1969) (2)

Today’s Challenge:  Colorful Titles
What are some examples of expressions or familiar phrases that refer to colors in a figurative rather than literal manner, such as “black sheep,” “red herring,” or “white elephant”?  Brainstorm a list of these idioms (an expression that doesn’t make sense when translated literally but that is nevertheless almost universally understood), attempting to cover a full spectrum of colors:  red, white, blue, green, black, yellow, purple, etc.  Here are few examples to get you thinking:


true blue

green thumb

grey area

blue moon

yellow journalism

caught red handed

rose-colored glasses

golden oldies

red-letter day

a silver lining

Next, look at your list, and use it as a springboard for a story (fiction or non-fiction).  Using your idiom as the title, write your narrative, including characters, dialogue, conflict, and resolution.  Make sure, however, that there’s a clear connection between your story’s plot and your story’s title.

Quotation of the Day: Sky of blue and sea of green, in our yellow submarine. -The Beatles

1 – Ebert, Roger. Great Movies. Chicago Sun Times. 9/5/99.

2 – Ayto, John. Twentieth Century Words. Oxford: Oxford University Press,1999.

3 – Ammer, Christine. American Heritage Dictionary of Idioms. Boston: Houghton Mifflin Company, 1997.