Monday, March 8, 2010

It's Not Easy Being Green

Even Kermit the Frog from Sesame Street had to admit, "It's not easy being green," perhaps, in part, because the word "green" performs so many different functions in the English language.

As a child, probably the first thing I learned about the word green was that it is a color, and could be made by mixing blue and yellow. Green is abundant in our world. It is the color of grass, leaves, certain insects, moss, pond scum, four-leaf clovers, paper money (until the US got more colorful with its currency), and my favorite outfit. It is also a category of vegetables, and my mother always told us to eat our greens: lettuce, cabbage, broccoli, peas, zucchini, green beans, green peppers, olives, avocados. A green salad was often served with dinner, and in the summer we looked forward to cooked greens: beet greens (especially if the tiny beets were still attached), spinach, Swiss chard, and more. A green light meant "go"--if it faced you, it was safe to cross the street; if it faced oncoming cars, you'd be smart to wait until the light changed. If you were given the "green light" at work, it meant you could proceed with your project.

Green could also mean that something wasn't ripe. I learned quickly that green concord grapes were sour, green bananas were hard, but green tomatoes were delicious if dipped in egg and cornflake crumbs and fried. Green wine meant it hadn't fully matured and was apt to have a harsh, acidic flavor. Green lumber had to dry out before it could be used in building, and furniture made with green wood could splinter when it dried out or pull apart at the joinings. Using green wood in your fireplace would smoke up the house. Green pottery hadn't yet been fired in a kiln, and green cement wasn't fully dried out and hardened, as we discovered when my dog left paw prints in the newly poured foundation of the breezeway connecting the house with the garage.

Someone new on the job was green, meaning inexperienced. And, if he'd been working a while but still made mistakes or didn't understand, he was considered "still green." A green recruit was one who had just enlisted in the service; and if he wore his "greens," it meant he had on his blue-green uniform. People from the West referred to people from the East who moved West as "greenhorns." A person could be green with envy, or turn green if he was going to be sick. And if you came here from another country, you had to have your "green card" if you didn't want to get into trouble with the Immigration Service.

At Christmas time, churches celebrate the "hanging of the greens," which means they decorate the church with evergreen boughs. And you hope you won't be short of "green" (money) so you can buy presents for everyone.

A town square or common is often referred to as the "village green." Closely cropped grass at a golf course might be referred to as the "putting green," a shooting range for archery is also called the "green," and a "bowling green" was used for lawn bowling.

Song titles and lyrics even used the word green in them. We listened to "The Ballad of the Green Beret" by Barry Sadler, "Bowling Green" by the Everly Brothers, "The Green, Green, Grass of Home" by Tom Jones, "The Green Leaves of Summer" by the Brothers Four, "Green, Green" by the Kingston Trio, and even the theme song from the TV show, "Green Acres."

Today, the word "green" also refers to something that is environmentally friendly. We have green computers, green cars, green fuels, green (natural) fibers, green jobs, and countless web sites that teach us ways in which to "green" our homes by using fuel efficient and environmentally sound appliances and products. And every year communities celebrate Green-up Day in the spring, when people volunteer to go out and pick up litter in their neighborhoods and along the highways.

Even the health industry has gone "green." Green smoothies are promoted as an easy, delicious way of getting in the recommended daily servings of fruits and vegetables. Green smoothies are rich in vitamins and other nutrients, are satisfying, give you energy, and can even help you lose weight or maintain your ideal weight. You can find recipes, articles, and how-to videos at such sites as Incredible Smoothies ( and their soon-to-be-launched sister site, Incredible Raw (

So, if you're feeling blue, are in a black mood, you're having trouble with some gray areas, or even if life is rosy and you're in the pink of health, maybe what you need is a little "green" in your life. As Kermit says at the end of the song, "I am green and it'll do fine, it's beautiful, and I think it's what I want to be."