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ivory tower

a place or situation remote from worldly or practical affairs:
the university as an ivory tower.
an attitude of aloofness from or disdain or disregard for worldly or practical affairs:
his ivory tower of complacency.
Origin of ivory tower
translation of French tour d'ivoire, phrase used by C.A. Sainte-Beuve in reference to the isolated life of the poet A. de Vigny (1837)
Related forms
ivory-towered, ivory-towerish, adjective
ivory-towerism, ivorytowerishness, noun
ivory-towerist, ivory-towerite, noun Unabridged
Based on the Random House Dictionary, © Random House, Inc. 2018.
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Examples from the Web for ivory tower
Contemporary Examples
Historical Examples
  • It is to no mere "ivory tower" of aesthetic superiority that we retreat.

    Suspended Judgments John Cowper Powys
  • All life has streamed into your soul, and you have lived in the ivory tower.

    The Goose Man Jacob Wassermann
  • The latch was always lifted on the front door of his ivory tower.

    Unicorns James Huneker
  • She could never now, with a tranquil heart, go into the ivory tower.

    The Brimming Cup Dorothy Canfield Fisher
  • Having made this pronouncement, she entered the ivory tower of her deafness and closed the door.

    Crome Yellow Aldous Huxley
British Dictionary definitions for ivory tower

ivory tower

  1. seclusion or remoteness of attitude regarding real problems, everyday life, etc
  2. (as modifier): ivory-tower aestheticism
Derived Forms
ivory-towered, adjective
Collins English Dictionary - Complete & Unabridged 2012 Digital Edition
© William Collins Sons & Co. Ltd. 1979, 1986 © HarperCollins
Publishers 1998, 2000, 2003, 2005, 2006, 2007, 2009, 2012
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Word Origin and History for ivory tower

as a symbol of artistic or intellectual aloofness, by 1889, from French tour d'ivoire, used in 1837 by critic Charles-Augustin Sainte-Beuve (1804-1869) with reference to the poet Alfred de Vigny, whom he accused of excessive aloofness.

Et Vigny, plus secret, comme en sa tour d'ivoire, avant midi rentrait. [Sainte-Beuve, "Pensées d'Août, à M. Villemain," 1837]
Used earlier as a type of a wonder or a symbol of "the ideal." The literal image is perhaps from Song of Solomon [vii:4]:
Thy neck is as a tower of ivory; thine eyes like the fishpools in Heshbon, by the gate of Bathrabbim: thy nose is as the tower of Lebanon which looketh toward Damascus. [KJV]

Online Etymology Dictionary, © 2010 Douglas Harper
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Slang definitions & phrases for ivory tower

ivory tower


A place or attitude of retreat, especially preoccupation with lofty, remote, or intellectual considerations: Come out of that ivory tower

The Dictionary of American Slang, Fourth Edition by Barbara Ann Kipfer, PhD. and Robert L. Chapman, Ph.D.
Copyright (C) 2007 by HarperCollins Publishers.
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Idioms and Phrases with ivory tower

ivory tower

A place or attitude of retreat, remoteness from everyday affairs, as in What does the professor know about student life, living as he does in an ivory tower? This term is a translation of the French tour d'ivoire, which the critic Saint-Beuve used to describe the attitude of poet Alfred de Vigny in 1837. It is used most often in reference to intellectuals and artists who remain complacently aloof.
The American Heritage® Idioms Dictionary
Copyright © 2002, 2001, 1995 by Houghton Mifflin Company. Published by Houghton Mifflin Company.
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