Green ink

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Not to be confused with the Green Line, the 1949-1967 de facto borders of Israel; for that topic, see Israel#Onging disputes and crises.

Green ink is a British journalistic term for the frothing of lunatics.[1][2][3] Back when letters to news outlets were produced in an archaic medium based on materials known as "paper" and "ink", the nutters would supposedly always write their IMPORTANT INFORMATION in green.

It is not known just how many such letters actually existed, or if this is just urban legend, though there are occasional reports of physical manifestations.[4] Common comorbid characteristics include irrelevant capitalisation, religious mania, overuse of exclamation marks, and veiled threats or warnings directed at the recipient. An article in The Observer about letters to the editor suggests avoidance of green ink.[5] According to etymologist Michael Quinion, the association of green ink with cranks was well-known by 1985; however, his readers found earlier references, including Carl Sagan receiving a long letter in green ink about life on other planets prior to 1973, and a reference by Kingsley Amis in 1953 to a shady character, revealed as an academic thief, also writing in green ink.[6]

The term remains a useful metaphor for similar frothing in the electronic age, even though the pages are likely to include every colour rejected from the rainbow,[7] in a tasteful variety of fonts. Though the truly exquisite green ink often appears in carefully-formatted black and white PDFs.

One possible reason for people to use green ink to give them extra authority is that Captain Sir Mansfield George Smith-Cumming,[8] the first director of the British Secret Intelligence Service — SIS, commonly known as MI6 (Military Intelligence, Section 6) — used green ink and would sign documents with a green "C" (for "chief"), a practice that subsequent chiefs of the SIS have followed.[9] This practice began around 1909, well before the association of green ink with cranks.[10] The guardians of underage Roman emperors used green ink to sign their charge's correspondence.[11]

It may also sometimes be used out of a belief that certain colors of ink photocopy or scan less well than black (particularly in a black-and-white machine). If this were true, green ink would make it harder to copy your brilliant thoughts, preventing plagiarism or keeping records of your insanity, although in practice non-photo blueWikipedia is a better choice.

When Andrea Leadsom resigned from Theresa May's Cabinet in May 2019, she wrote her salutation and signature in green ink.[12]

See also[edit]

External inks[edit]


  1. Insert the text you want green here.
  2. Bile from the green brigade (Northern Echo, 29 May 2006) — "I once had a letter from a green ink regular, signed Paul the Apostle, telling me I was "the spawn of the horned devil and a wicked whore from hell."
  3. Insert the text you want green here.
  4. So, you want to write to the editor (Stephen Pritchard, The Observer, 3 February 2002)
  5. Green-ink letter, Michael Quinion, World Wide Words, accessed 19 Aug 2019
  6. is the all-time champion here.
  7. See the Wikipedia article on Mansfield Smith-Cumming.
  8. UK Politics 286128 at
  9. Green Ink: The colour of eccentrics and spooks, Pen Vibes, Feb 2, 2019
  10. Alexander Allen, Ph.D, "Atramentum", in: A Dictionary of Greek and Roman Antiquities, William Smith, D.C.L., LL.D (ed.), John Murray, London, 1875. "But if the emperor was under age, his guardian used a green ink for writing his signature (Montfaucon, Palaeog. p3)."