the handwriting on the wall

A phrase recalling an Old Testament story about Daniel. While a king was holding the Jews (see also Jews) captive in the foreign land of Babylon (see also Babylon), in the sixth century b.c., a mysterious hand appeared, writing on the wall of the king's palace. The king called upon Daniel, who interpreted it to mean that God intended the king and his kingdom to fall. The king was slain that night.


Nearby words

  1. the grapes of wrath,
  2. the grass is always greener on the other side of the fence,
  3. the great gatsby,
  4. the green-eyed monster,
  5. the hague,
  6. the hell with,
  7. the horror! the horror!,
  8. the horse's mouth,
  9. the human comedy,
  10. the hunchback of notre dame

Note

Figuratively, the expression means that some misfortune is impending: “His firing came as no surprise; he'd seen the handwriting on the wall months before.”

The New Dictionary of Cultural Literacy, Third Edition Copyright © 2005 by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Publishing Company. Published by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Publishing Company. All rights reserved.