Myth #122: Blue Laws are named after the color paper they were printed on.


This myth states that the origin of the term “blue laws,” (statues regulating work, commerce, and activities on Sundays) comes from the color of the paper on which they were printed. Or the color of the book’s binding.  

According to the Encyclopedia Britannica, the term “blue laws” originated in 1781 in A General History of Connecticut where the author, Rev. Samuel Peters, refers to outlandish Connecticut laws of the 17th century, most of which he made up. Some think he may have made up the phrase “blue laws” as well; the Oxford English Dictionary does not provide an earlier use. It does, however, give an earlier meaning of the word “blue”– it meant indecent or rigidly moral, as seen in bluestocking (a woman with literary or intellectual proclivities) or bluenose (person who advocates a rigorous moral code). On another note, I am unaware of blue writing paper in colonial days–I am unaware of any color other than white or near white–although I have seen blue covers on books of that period. 


3 Responses to Myth #122: Blue Laws are named after the color paper they were printed on.

  1. Kathleen Kernan says:

    Actually, blue paper was incredibly common and used frequently by artists from the Renaissance on particularly for chalk drawings. Look at the catalog raisonne for Albrecht Durer for a basic introduction to media. Remember most paper prior to the nineteenth century was made of rags. There were lots of sailors who tended to wear blue thus there were lots of blue rags available.

    • Mary Miley says:

      Thank you, Kathleen. I didn’t know that, but it does make sense. Not only sailors wore blue–it was also a common color for laborers (hence blue-collar workers), so you’re right–there was a good deal of it around. Still, I’ve never seen blue paper (other than to wrap sugar loaves, see Suygar Loaf Myth Revise from Jan. 1, 2012) used as writing paper, and I’ve seen tons of documents from the 16th century through the 20th. Has anyone else?

  2. Curtis Cook says:

    I realize that this is off-topic, but did you know that the original blue-stocking wasn’t a woman, but a man who (supposedly scandalously) publicly consorted with educated and opinionated women in salons? In fact, this took place near the beginning of salon society.

    I wish I had the book to reference, but it was one my sister loaned to me shortly before Christmas, written by a woman who has written four or more books about ‘scandalous’ women and why we shouldn’t be scandalized by them. Her books are very entertaining, but she seems to believe that the way we think about women hasn’t changed in the past half-century.

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