Color outside the lines

Color outside the lines is an idiom that has risen sharply in popularity over the last forty years. An idiom is a word, group of words or phrase that has a figurative meaning that is not easily deduced from its literal definition. Often using descriptive imagery, common idioms are words and phrases used in the English language in order to convey a concise idea, and are often spoken or are considered informal or conversational. English idioms can illustrate emotion more quickly than a phrase that has a literal meaning, even when the etymology or origin of the idiomatic expression is lost. An idiom is a metaphorical figure of speech, and it is understood that it is not a use of literal language. Figures of speech have definitions and connotations that go beyond the literal meaning of the words. Mastery of the turn of phrase of an idiom or other parts of speech is essential for the English learner. Many English as a Second Language students do not understand idiomatic expressions that native speakers understand such as in a blue moon, spill the beans, let the cat out of the bag, chin up, on the ball, barking up the wrong tree, kick the bucket, hit the nail on the head, under the weather, piece of cake, when pigs fly, and raining cats and dogs, as they attempt to translate them word for word, which yields only the literal meaning. In addition to learning vocabulary and grammar, one must understand the phrasing of the figurative language of idiomatic phrases in order to know English like a native speaker. We will examine the meaning of the idiom color outside the lines, its origin, and some examples of its use in sentences.

To color outside the lines is an idiom that means to not follow the rules, to think creatively, to behave in an unconventional manner. The image invoked by the idiom color outside the lines is of a child who does not fill in the pictures in a coloring book in a conventional manner. The coloring book was invented in the 1880s by the McLoughlin Brothers, when these books were called painting books. Crayons had not been invented yet, and so these books were meant to be painted. Binney & Smith invented the wax Crayola crayon in the United States at the turn of the twentieth century, and painting books became coloring books. Coloring books have been popular ever since. During the 1970s, coloring books came under fire in some educational circles as stifling creativity. Others believe that coloring books are a good way for children to practice fine motor control. Related phrases are colors outside the lines, colored outside the lines, coloring outside the lines.


She punched in for nearly two decades before a realization dawned: The O&G world was black-and-white, and she wanted to color outside the lines. (Houstonia Magazine)

It is not a guarantee, though, and it doesn’t allow for winemakers who like to color outside the lines. (The Augusta Chronicle)

As we all know, those who are willing to color outside the lines, while looking for competitive advantages, love to tell on themselves, likely at the expense of their own careers. (Forbes Magazine)

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