Show one’s true colors

The phrase show one’s true colors is an idiom. 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 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 show one’s true colors, where it came from, and some examples of its use in sentences.

To show one’s true colors is to reveal one’s true nature, one’s true feelings, or one’s true motives. In order to show one’s true colors, one must have first been covering up one’s true feelings, motives, or nature. The phrase show one’s true colors is derived from nautical jargon. The colors of a ship are its flags. Sometimes, a ship would lower its colors or even fly the enemy’s colors to gain the advantage in a naval battle. Therefore, to show one’s true colors meant to lower a counterfeit flag and raise the flag of the sovereignty whose allegiance the ship truly pledged. Related phrases are shows one’s true colors, showed one’s true colors, showing one’s true colors.


“It’s one of those things that puts you in a position to be successful or it’s going to show your true colors.” (The Miami Herald)

“Throughout this entire impeachment process, complicit John Cornyn showed his true colors,” said Texas Democratic Party spokesman Abhi Raman. (The Valley Morning Star)

But people always show their true colors, and after enough time you may begin to realize the best way to get out of all the friendship heartbreak is to just take a step back; the best thing may be to not have that person in your life anymore. (The Eastern Echo)

“In refusing to visit flood-hit communities, nowhere-to-be-seen Boris Johnson is showing his true colors by his absence,” Corbyn said. (The New York Times)

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