Search us!

Search The Word Detective and our family of websites:

This is the easiest way to find a column on a particular word or phrase.

To search for a specific phrase, put it between quotation marks.

 

Ask a Question!

Puzzled by Posh?
Confounded by Cattycorner?
Baffled by Balderdash?
Flummoxed by Flabbergast?
Perplexed by Pandemonium?
Nonplussed by... Nonplussed?
Annoyed by Alliteration?

Don't be shy!
Send in your question!

 

 

 

Alphabetical Index
of Columns January 2007 to present.

 

Archives 2006 – present

Old Archives

Columns from 1995 to 2006 are slowly being added to the above archives. For the moment, they can best be found by using the Search box at the top of this column.

 

If you would like to be notified when each monthly update is posted here, sign up for our free email notification list.

 

 

 

 

Trivia

All contents herein (except the illustrations, which are in the public domain) are Copyright © 1995-2011 Evan Morris. Reproduction without written permission is prohibited, with the exception that teachers in public schools may duplicate and distribute the material here for classroom use.

Any typos found are yours to keep.

And remember, kids,
Semper Ubi Sub Ubi

 

TWD RSS feeds

Sent to Coventry

 It’s the step before “Sleeps with the fishes.”

Dear Word Detective: What does it mean to be “sent to Coventry”? — David.

Well, that’s an admirably succinct question. To the point. Downright terse, some would say. Not me, mind you. Too much blather and balderdash these days, I say.

This is one of those cases where I welcome the question, but I’m also intensely curious as to where you heard or saw the phrase. I’ve run across “sent to Coventry” several times in novels, etc., but I’m pretty sure I’ve never heard it said aloud by a real person.

Coventry is a city in the West Midlands of England, about 95 miles northwest of London. It’s a very old city, founded on a site settled during the Bronze Age, occupied by Romans and Vikings at various points, and officially chartered in the 14th century. During World War II, Coventry was heavily bombed by the Luftwaffe, resulting in the destruction of Coventry Cathedral (aka St. Michael’s Cathedral), built in the 14th century. The bombed-out shell of the original Gothic cathedral has been preserved as a memorial next to a new (1962) modernist cathedral.

The origin of the name “Coventry” is a bit murky, but in Old English it was “Couentre,” meaning “tree of a man called Cofa,” probably referring to a tree marking a land boundary or a well-known place of assembly.

To “send a person to Coventry” means to ostracize the person, give them the cold shoulder, tolerate their presence but exclude them from polite society. The phrase first appeared in print in the 18th century, but seems to be rooted in the English Civil War between the Royalists and Parliamentarians of the 1640s. Edward Hyde, 1st Earl of Clarendon, in his “History of the rebellion and civil wars in England” (1703), notes that Royalist troops captured in Birmingham were sent to the Parliamentarian stronghold of Coventry and held as prisoners. Given the passions of the day, goes this story, the captives were not warmly received. However, another account claims that people in Coventry were simply hostile to the presence of troops from either side, and soldiers soon found that being “sent to Coventry” was a prescription for social isolation and loneliness.

Whatever the source, by the mid-18th to “be sent to Coventry” or “to be in Coventry” was an established idiom for being shunned and isolated as a punishment for some infraction, usually social (“Mr. John Barry having sent the Fox Hounds to a different place to what was ordered … was sent to Coventry, but return’d upon giving six bottles of Claret to the Hunt.” 1765). Today we’d say that the offender had been “frozen (or iced) out,” “banished” or simply “in the doghouse.”

Speaking of Coventry, that fair city is also the locus of one persistent legend and one phrase drawn from it. According to legend, in 1040 Lady Godiva was upset that her husband, the local Lord, was taxing the residents of Coventry too severely. He announced that he would lessen the taxes if she would ride through the town stark naked. She accepted the bargain, and out of respect all the townsfolk stayed inside during her ride. All except one, that is. A tailor named Thomas peeked from his window and, depending on which version of the legend one believes, either was promptly struck blind or had his eyes poked out by angry citizens. This incident is said to be the origin of “peeping Tom” as a synonym for “voyeur.”

About subscriber content

subscriber09The columns in this section are available, for the moment, only to subscribers to TWD-by-Email. If you are a subscriber, simply enter your password in one of the boxes below and all the columns will open for reading. (You must have cookies enabled in your browser for this to work.)

If you are not yet a subscriber, please consider supporting this site by subscribing for $15 per year.  Subscribers receive access to these columns as soon as they are sent to newspapers, usually at least two months before they appear on this website. After a couple of months, these columns are unlocked and added to the free public part of this website.

Everything on this site is free eventually, thanks to our paying subscribers.

Incidentally, as a subscriber, you would be able to read not only the current batch of columns, written last week, but also about sixty more that haven’t yet “rolled over” into the free part of the site (and which are not yet reflected in our Index).  So by  subscribing for a year in November, for instance, you’d actually have access to Subscriber Content going back to June of this year.

If you are having password problems, read the rest of this post.

Continue reading this post » » »

Caboose

This post is subscriber content. To read it, please enter your password.