Revisited Myth #122: Blue Laws are named for 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. 


4 Responses to Revisited Myth #122: Blue Laws are named for the color paper they were printed on.

  1. Related: I came across a reference to blue paper in David Skinner’s wonderful book “Wallpaper in Ireland”: Blue and brown papers were increasingly produced in Ireland and England from the 1690’s, but they had utilitarian purposes, as opposed to white writing paper. Blue paper was used for book covers, as you pointed out, but another product was wallpaper: “The Blue Paper Company in London was formed following a patent granted in November 1691 to William Bayly for ‘printing paper of all sorts of figures and colors…which would be useful for hanging in rooms’.

  2. It’s funny how “blue” had two opposite meanings: indecent or rigidly moral. Then there’s the idea of a “blue blood,” which doesn’t imply either of these.

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