Historically Speaking

Making sense of it all!

The Blues

Posted by Elyse Bruce on July 21, 2010

Washington Irving is credited with having first used the term “the blues” in 1807, as a synonym for melancholy:

“He conducted his harangue with a sigh, and I saw he was still under the influence of a whole legion of the blues.”

His usage was a shortening of the phrase “the blue devils” which was a synonym that goes back to at least Elizabethan times to describe a baleful presence.

That being said, the word “blue” was used by Chaucer in his poem,  Complaint of Mars — a transitional work that finds its fulfillment in Chaucer’s Canterbury Tales — to represent woe.  The poem itself was written some time between 1375 and 1385. 

The idiom was reinforced by the belief that anxiety and sadness produced a blue cast to the skin of those individuals affected by sadness that lingers.

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