On January 26 I travelled to Guyana and when my black ink pen malfunctioned, I used the only other available pen – red ink – to fill the immigration entry form. Upon receipt of the document, the young female immigration officer’s reaction was, “Dey didn teach yo in school dat is a insult to write in red ink?”
Being a teacher for thirty-four years (the first twelve in Guyana), to be rebuked for violating some apparently sacrosanct writing protocol was not only embarrassing, but shocking in that I have never been taught any such writing stricture. After filling out a new form, with a borrowed pen and receiving a muted apology from the supervising immigration officer (to whom I protested but who shared her subordinate’s view) for the indelicate handling of the matter, I began to reflect on how or why the use of red ink in most circumstances came to be considered offensive.
From the results of the Google research I conducted, it is clear that there is really no definitive, commonsensical explanation for red ink being so maligned, especially in this modern, technological age. I discovered that the negativity can be traced back in traditional Asian culture to red ink being linked to bad luck. It was likened to signing in blood; used for breaking friendship; reserved for the dead – names of the deceased were written, printed, or engraved in red on gravestones, or on their death anniversary.
How these superstitions found their way into European culture escaped my internet research, but these and a plethora of other reasons abound for the bad rap given red ink. Some of these are: it indicates a deficit or debt (in accounting); it is representative of danger; it does not copy well on a black and white office copier; it does not contrast well against white paper; it is offensive to Catholics since red signifies the colour of Christ’s blood; a page of red ink is unaesthetic; it is hard on the eyes and the psyche; its psychological meaning is either expressive of passion or anger; it is an authoritarian expression reserved only for teachers and professors’ correction; and on envelopes and postcards in the UK it is an insult to the Queen.
In my estimation, the bases on which red ink has been deemed unacceptable for most forms of writing are irrational and groundless. There are pens in every hue of the rainbow that people should feel free to use based on their individual taste. Recipients of written communication should be less concerned about the colour of the font and more interested in its content and context. Finally, teachers and professors, to foster creativity and uniqueness, should accept any colour ink from students as long as it is legible, and in those instances when this happens, use another colour to create the contrast necessary for indicating their corrections.