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Etiquette: Use of Color

Posted by on Oct 2, 2015

“I never really paid attention to the color of ink I chose to write in. Then my boss handed me a pen with four different colors and a new client to impress. I froze.”



We’ll thaw you out in no time.

A modern and somewhat superficial take on this matter seemingly endorsed by Bic dictates:

Red = Important and urgent.

Blue = Important and semi-urgent.

Black = Important and not urgent.

Green = Not important or urgent.


This seems to speak only to to-do lists and the jotting down and organizing of notes. A deeper and more correspondence driven understanding does exist, so let’s try this on for size:


Red = Correcting errors. Used in bookkeeping, as well.

Blue = Social correspondences.

Black = Business correspondences. 

Green = Stocktaking.


As in all other matters, there are caveats here.


Some office work requires the use of blue ink so as to easier distinguish originals from copies. In keeping with this, a Notary Public will most likely hand you a blue pen.


Further into the aforementioned realm of bookkeeping:


Red = Debits. 

Black (Less often blue) = Credits.

Green = Recordings that offer no change in value.


Green serves in tutoring circles for a secondary correction beyond red. The interesting niche life of green plays a hand in political and government offices, as well. Letters written in by citizens are replied to if notated with green ink.


In the end, perhaps it is succinctly enough put by John Morgan in his Modern Manners:

“Black remains the most correct and distinguished choice. Blue is very much in second place and is thought more suitable for women than for men. Blue-black is only appropriate for schoolboys. Coloured inks, although more acceptable than before, are still considered very suspect in traditional circles.”

Except for the fact I personally disagree.


If you take all evidence in mind, blue seems the best, if not safest bet — if you ever find yourself frozen again. Its lone drawback being the risk of appearing overly familiar in a formal correspondence. However, I feel that if that great of a transgression would be at stake, black would be an obvious choice and not requiring of a weighing of options. 


Plus, stylistically speaking, blue pops well as compared to oft characterless black — yet remains near universally acceptable.




You can email your questions to me at nsk57033@gmail.com, or tweet them to me @iamkap. If you wish to be anonymous, or answered privately, please include that information in your original correspondence. 


Thank you.

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Born in Brooklyn New York, Kaplowitz quickly ran away with the circus and somehow landed as a chef in the Chicago and Baltimore areas. He is a published author of poetry and prose, as well as a well seasoned podcaster and radio guy. Among his hobbies Kap counts writing bios of himself in the third person, casino trips, and walking his Dachshund, Ruby Vondella. Please follow him on Twitter @iamkap to be alerted as to his frequent Thrift Store purchases.

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