writing on the wall

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English[edit]

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Alternative forms[edit]

Etymology[edit]

From the Biblical story in the Book of Daniel; mysterious writing on the wall during King Belshazzar's feast points to the downfall of the Babylonian Empire.

Noun[edit]

writing on the wall ‎(countable and uncountable, plural writings on the wall)

  1. An ominous warning; a prediction of bad luck.
    He could see the writing on the wall months before the business failed.
    • 1982, Letters on India The New York Times Did Not Publish, page 43:
      The Portuguese refused to read the writings on the wall and clung to their colonies, including the one in India.
    • 2011, Alwyn Beikoff, Eliminate Your Fear: The Way to Emotional Freedom at Last, page 24:
      As we grew older we too added more writing on the wall. We are responsible for some of it and we are responsible for continuing to operate in accordance with the writing that is on our walls.
    • 2012, Jan Nederveen Pieterse, “Global Rebalancing”, in Jan Nederveen Pieterse, ‎Jongtae Kim, editors, Globalization and Development in East Asia, page 36:
      Without a doubt these trends represent the “next big thing". Consider a sampling of recent headlines as writings on the wall:
    • 2014, Daniel Carnahan, The Manipulator, page 594:
      Don't you see the implications and writings on the wall for our family's future?
    • 2014, Noël Coward, The Lyrics of Noël Coward:
      However, regardless of evil portents, prophetic despair and a great deal too much writing on the wall, I have managed so far to write two fairly cheerful musical comedies.
    • 2014 September 15, “Regulator may push for state-mandated Taser training”, in Atlanta Journal Constitution:
      It gets to the point to where you see so much writing on the wall where we may not have a choice but to step in and say 'yes, you will train every year []

Usage notes[edit]

  • As an uncountable noun, the phrase alludes to a vague set of ominous indications. As a countable noun, the singular refers to a specific warning.

See also[edit]