As a color word in the English language, it appears in late Middle English. Shaded toward gray, it becomes olive drab.
The first recorded use of olivine as a color name in English was in 1912.
Olive drab is variously described as a "dull olive-green colour" (Oxford English Dictionary); "a shade of greenish-brown" (Webster's New World Dictionary); "a dark gray-green" (MacMillan English dictionary); "a grayish olive to dark olive brown or olive gray" (American Heritage Dictionary); or "A dull but fairly strong gray-green color" (Collins English Dictionary). It was widely used as a camouflage color for uniforms and equipment in the armed forces, particularly by the U.S. Army during the Second World War.
The first recorded use of olive drab as a color name in English was in 1892. Drab is an older color name, from the middle of the 16th century. It refers to a dull light brown color, the color of cloth made from undyed homespun wool. It took its name from the old French word for cloth, drap.
Olive drab was the color of the standard fighting uniform for U.S. GIs and military vehicles during World War II. U.S. soldiers often referred to their uniforms as "OD's" due to the color. The color used at the beginning of the war by the U.S. Army was officially called Olive Drab #3, which was replaced by Olive Drab #7 (hex code #3C341F) by 1944, and which was again replaced by Olive Green 107 or OG-107 in 1952, and continued as the official uniform color for combat fatigues through the Vietnam War until replaced in 1981 by M81 woodland camo fatigues as the primary U.S. uniform pattern (based on the ERDL pattern used by some soldiers in Vietnam), which retained olive drab as one of the color swatches in the pattern.
As a solid color, it is not as effective for camouflage as multiple-color camo schemes (e.g., U.S. Army Combat Uniform, Tigerstripe, MARPAT, Multicam etc.), though it is still used by the U.S. military to color webbing and accessories. The armies of Israel, India, Cuba, Venezuela, and Austria wear solid-color olive drab uniforms.
In the American novel A Separate Peace, Finny says to Gene, "...and in these times of war, we all see olive drab, and we all know it is the patriotic color. All others aren't about the war; they aren't patriotic."
Olive green is greener than olive or olive drab but less green than dark olive green. An example is U.S. Army OG-107:
The color "black olive" is a representation of the color of black olives.
This is one of the colors in the RAL color matching system, a color system widely used in Europe. The RAL color list originated in 1927, and it reached its present form in 1961.