"That's a great deal to make one word mean," Alice said in a thoughtful tone. "When I make a word do a lot of work like that," said Humpty Dumpty, "I always pay it extra."

Monday, 13 July 2009

To see through rose-coloured spectacles

To see things through rose-coloured spectacles or rose-coloured glasses means to view events and people positively seeing only their good points; to have an attitude of cheerfulness and optimism; to see everything in a favorable and pleasant light; to have unmitigated optimism.

Mum often talked about people seeing things through rose-coloured spectacles. She had heard he expression as a young child at school in the 1910s and had loved the idea so much she was still amused by it in her nineties. In fact, the term began to be used in the 1850s and is first found in print in 1861 *, when it appears in ‘Tom Brown at Oxford’ by Thomas Hughes. “Oxford was a sort of Utopia to the Captain . . . He continued to behold towers, and quadrangles, and chapels, through rose-colored spectacles.

(* See amendment in comments)

A similar 20th-century idiom is to ‘see the glass as being half full not half empty.’


  1. My VERY favorite glasses of all!!! My life, in a nutshell! Loved this!

  2. As a fellow word lover, you might be interested in some earlier references. In 1858, George MacDonald described a character this way: "He saw everything as through a rose-coloured glass. When he walked the streets, he always felt as if reading a tale, into which he sought to weave every face of interest that went by." (Phantastes, p 156) And Charles Doyle's Seeing through Colored Glasses (2001) describes the history of all shades glasses, including a quote from Mary Davenant: "A man in love is easily deceived. I have seen more of life than you have, my dear, simply because I look at people with my own eyes, instead of through rose-coloured glasses as you do." (The Ideal and the Real, 1843).

  3. Thank you Tim - It's always great to have comments on this blog and especially when they add something useful for the readers.