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The writing is on the wall

by: Garry Pierrepont (7 January 2011)

We are told that "the writing is on the wall" for various Premier League football managers, not least Roy Hodgson at Liverpool. (However soon he is out of his job whether by sacking or resignation Mr Hodgson was still manager of Liverpool at the time of writing (7 January 2011).)

The writing is on the wall is an oft-used phrase, and it made me wonder where it came from.

Its meaning, of course as in the case of the managers is a sign of impending doom: in their case, the potential doom is that they will soon be fired from their jobs.

The phrase goes back to The Bible.

According to Nigel Rees in "A Word in Your Shell-Like 6,000 Curious & Everyday Phrases Explained", the idea for the phrase came from Daniel 5 in the Bible where King Belshazzar is told that the Babylonian Empire will soon be destroyed, as foretold by a man's writing on a wall.

Jonathan Swift used the phrase around 1720, as did Wilkie Collins in No Name, 1862. Collins quotes the Belshazzar reference.

We say it so often. Now I know where we got it from.

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