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ivory tower

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noun
  1. a place or situation remote from worldly or practical affairs: the university as an ivory tower.
  2. 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 formsi·vo·ry-tow·ered, i·vo·ry-tow·er·ish, adjectivei·vo·ry-tow·er·ism, i·vo·rytow·er·ish·ness, nouni·vo·ry-tow·er·ist, i·vo·ry-tow·er·ite, noun
Dictionary.com Unabridged Based on the Random House Unabridged Dictionary, © Random House, Inc. 2018
British Dictionary definitions for ivory tower

ivory tower

noun
    1. seclusion or remoteness of attitude regarding real problems, everyday life, etc
    2. (as modifier)ivory-tower aestheticism
Derived Formsivory-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

Word Origin and History for ivory tower

n.

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

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 Harcourt Publishing Company. Published by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Publishing Company.