In Reply to: Carrying coals to Newcastle posted by Smokey Stover on December 23, 2009 at 21:09:
: : : : : : : : : My understanding of the phrase "Carrying coals to Newcastle" is Coals means hot coals and you don't have to do it because Newcastle is an iron making center and there are fires burning there 24 hours a day. What does "coals" mean?
: : : : : : : : [Coals is coals; you wouldn't carry burning coals very far in any case. Newcastle-upon-Tyne was an exporter of coal; the phrase has been recorded since the sixteenth century. - Baceseras.]
: : : : : : : Baceseras is correct. "Carrying coals to Newcastle" was like "taking sand to the Sahara" or "selling snow to Eskimos". (VSD)
: : : : : : I think Baceceras may have intended to say "Coals is coal." It's a tiny point, but it confused me at first.
: : : : : : I also think that "selling snow to Eskimos" started life as "selling refrigerators to Eskimos." One of the ironies of living in the Arctic is that refrigerators sell well among Eskimos. They don't need them to keep food cold so much as to keep some food cool without having it freeze.
: : : : : : SS
: : : : : BTW, among the northern peoples of North America, Eskimo is now only used to describe the native people of northern Alaska. In northern Canada the people prefer "Inuit", and in Greenland "Kaalallit" or "Greenlander" is used by the natives. There are some Inuit in Alaska but there are also Yupik, so Eskimo covers them both. I'm just mentioning this because I've gotten the feeling over the last few years that "Eskimo" is considered derogatory, but after some googling it's apparently only considered so in certain places.
: : : : [No, Smokey, I meant "Coals is coals" - a deliberate incorrection, but I didn't think it would confuse you, unless by "at first" you mean for half a second.
: : : : [While we are by-the-waying, there's yet another distinction in how these different phrases have typically been used. "Coals to Newcastle" stands for a waste of time or effort; but "selling snow (or refrigerators or ice-makers) to the Eskimos" goes to describe a super-salesman, it bespeaks mock-admiration for an awesome gift of persuasion. - B.]
: : : I am glad to learn the correct terminology for various native peoples of the Far North. I didn't see skrælingar on the list, but we can't have everything.
: : : SS
: : Wikipedia says, "In modern Icelandic, skrælingi means a barbarian or foreigner." ...so good luck with that.
: : When in doubt, there's always "indigenous peoples".
: The Norse discoverers of North America (which had already been discovered more than once) encountered "indigenous peoples" whom they referred to as skrælings. But you knew that, if you've looked the word up in the Wikipedia.
I knew the word by its English spelling "skrellings". As a child reading about the Norse encounter with the skrellings, written from a Norse perspective of course, it seemed to me that "skrelling" came from a combination of "screaming" and "yelling". Not really that far off from "barbarian".