Posted by: Dutch | February 28, 2010

Writing is on the wall

Meaning

Disaster or danger is imminent.

Origin

From the Bible, Daniel 5:5/6 (King James Version):

“In the same hour came forth fingers of a man’s hand, and wrote over against the candlestick upon the plaister of the wall of the king’s palace: and the king saw the part of the hand that wrote.”

Then the king’s countenance was changed, and his thoughts troubled him, so that the joints of his loins were loosed, and his knees smote one against another.

The expression began to be used figuratively, i.e. foretelling of danger where no actual writing or wall are involved, from the early 18th century. For example, Jonathan Swift’s Miscellaneous works, 1720:

“A baited Banker thus desponds,
From his own Hand foresees his Fall;
They have his Soul who have his Bonds;
‘Tis like the Writing on the Wall.”

– Sincere thanks to Gary Martin of The Phrase Finder

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