show true colors
show true colors (or colours)
also, false colors (antonym)
The meaning of “true colors” is the real/actual personality, attitude, views, and prejudices of a person other than the first impression or appearance.
- to reveal what one is really like
- to uncover one’s actual character or nature
- to betray someone
- to reveal one’s real personality or intentions
- I trusted her blindly, but when I was in need too much and called her for help, she showed her true colors.
- David looked nice initially, but he showed his true colors when I asked him for help.
- The American team showed their true colors by beating China.
- After being elected, the corrupt politician showed his true colors.
- Mark eventually showed his true colors and revealed that he was manipulative and selfish.
- As social media became more popular, fans got to see Janelle’s true colors outside of the show.
- Don’t trust Olivia. I’ve seen her true colors.
According to a famous theory, the idiom has a nautical origin. During the 1600s, the term colors (or colours) refer to the flag or pennant which each ship is legally and morally bound to fly at sea. Soon after that, it also became a common scam of pirates to “sail under false colours” and hoist a friendly flag to get within close range of a targeted ship without alerting them and to hide suspicious activities. And when the pirate ship reached close quarters, would it unfurl its true colors. But the genesis of the idiom is much earlier than the theory above.
The first citation of the phrase is from Thomas Becon’s A Fruitful Treatise of Fasting in 1551, which describes how Satan:
“setteth forth him selfe in his true colours”.
It’s also in Shakespeare, Henry IV Pt 2 (1600) act 2 scene 2:
“How might we see Falstaffe bestow himself to night in his true colours, and not our selues be seene?”
The sense of “colours” meaning livery (or some other show of allegiance), is older than Thomas Becon. But there are also a lot of metaphorical senses for “colour” that may be relevant.
“False colours” began to be recorded in prints from the 1700s.
- show one’s true stripes