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Sent to Coventry

Posted by Keith Reynolds on November 05, 2005

Sent to Coventry
Meaning To be ignored or persecuted.
Origin You say quite rightly that "This phrase was common in industrial disputes in Britain in the mid twentieth century. Anyone who was considered to be unsupportive of the workforce was in danger of finding that his/her workmates refused to acknowledge their existence." However, there is a much earlier explanation.

This phrase has its origins in the English Civil War, during which time the city of Coventry was used as a prison. Anyone sent there as a prisoner was not spoken to, hence the association with ostracisation.

I don't know whether it was the Coventrians who started the revival of the phrase in the 1900's when Coventry was a major industrial centre. Workers would threaten to stop talking to one of their own if he was suspected of betraying them to the managers or worse strike-breaking when they would also be called 'scabs'.