- 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
- seclusion or remoteness of attitude regarding real problems, everyday life, etc
- (as modifier)ivory-tower aestheticism
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]
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.