Posted by ESC on September 29, 2000
In Reply to: Re: The chickens have come home to roost posted by ESC on September 29, 2000
: : Does anyone know the origins of the phrase "the chickens have come home to roost"?
: THE CHICKENS HAVE COME HOME TO ROOST -- Chickens scratch around in the barnyard, in the fields and woods during the day. But at night they come home to the hen-house to roost. This saying is comparing a person's evil or foolish deeds to chickens. If a person does wrong, the "payback" might not be immediate. But at some point, at the end of the day, those "chickens" will come home to roost. "One has to face the consequences of one's past actions. In English, the proverb goes back to Chaucer's 'Parson's Tale' (c 1390). It was also know to Terence (about 190-159 B.C.) First attested in the United States in the 'Life of Jefferson S. Batkins' . The proverb is found in varying forms: Curses, like chickens, come home to roost; Sooner or later chickens, come home to roost..." From "Random House Dictionary of Popular Proverbs and Sayings" by Gregory Y. Titelman (Random House, New York, 1996).
This source has a later date for the phrase origin. "Malcolm X stirred up a hornet's nest when he said this about John F. Kennedy after the (U.S.) president was assassinated, possibly alluding to the alleged C.I.A. attempts on Fidel Castro's life. But the saying is an old one, dating back to at least 1810 in the form of 'Curses are like young chickens; they always come home to roost,' which appears to have been the invention of English poet laureate Robert Southey as the motto of his poem 'The Curse of Kehama.' The idea, of course, is that every curse or evil act returns to its originator as chickens return to their roost at night." From "The Encyclopedia of Word and Phrase Origins" by Robert Hendrickson (Facts on File, New York, 1997).