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the handwriting on the wall

the handwriting on the wall in Culture

the handwriting on the wall definition


A phrase recalling an Old Testament story about Daniel. While a king was holding the Jews captive in the foreign land of 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.

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 American Heritage® New Dictionary of Cultural Literacy, Third Edition
Copyright © 2005 by Houghton Mifflin Company.
Published by Houghton Mifflin Company. All rights reserved.
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