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Wednesday, July 30, 2014

Idiom of the day: Skeletons in the Cupboard


A secret source of shame, potentially ruinous if exposed, which a person or family makes efforts to conceal.


The  original phrase 'a skeleton in the closet' was coined in England in the 19th century. The usage now is : 'a skeleton in the cupboard'. If someone has a skeleton in the cupboard (or closet in US English), it means that they have a dark or embarrassing secret about their past that they would prefer to remain undisclosed.

'A skeleton in the closet' undoubtedly originated as an allusion to an apparently irreproachable person or family having a guilty secret waiting to be uncovered. . The expression has in origins in the medical profession. Doctors in Britain were not permitted to work on dead bodies until an Act of Parliament permitting them to do so was passed in 1832. Prior to this date the only bodies they could dissect for medical purposes were those of executed criminals. It was therefore common practice for a doctor who had the good fortune to dissect the corpse of an executed criminal to keep the skeleton for research purposes. Public opinion would not permit doctors to keep skeletons on open view in their surgeries so they had to hide them. Even if they couldn’t actually see them, most people suspected that doctors kept skeletons somewhere and the most logical place was the cupboard.

 The expression has now moved on from its literal sense.

Usage:  Natwar Singh's interview , ahead of the release of his 'tell all' autobiography, has Gandhi family  skeletons tumbling out of the cupboard. So, on the one hand we now know ( what we always in any case knew) that it was not Madame Gandhi's inner voice that held her back from becoming the Prime Minister but her son's entreaties and on the other Sanjay Baru's claim- that the Congress President checked out government files- stands substantiated .