Beyond a shadow of a doubt
What's the meaning of the phrase 'Beyond a shadow of a doubt'?
If something is said to be 'beyond a shadow of a doubt' the speaker is certain that it is true, with no possibility of ambiguity.
What's the origin of the phrase 'Beyond a shadow of a doubt'?
The expression 'beyond a shadow of a doubt' or, as it was more commonly expressed in the past, 'without a shadow of a doubt' originated in England in the 18th century.
A thing being a shadow of its former self has long been used to indicate a thing reduced in power and substance. For example, the phrase 'a shadow of a man' has been used since the 16th century to refer to a man much diminished from his earlier stature, as in this line from the English Puritan writer Andrew Kingsmill's A Viewe Mans Estate, circa 1569:
Least instead of a man, ye finde but the shadowe of a man.
'Without/beyond a shadow of a doubt' was coined in the same way, to indicate something not merely 'without doubt' but without even the smallest, most insubstantial scrap of doubt.
The earliest use of the expession that I have found is in the report of a legal case in which a judge was accused o a crime, reported in the English newspaper The Derby Mercury, September 1772:
That he [the judge] was innocent of the crime his evidences would prove. His evidences... proved an alibi in the clearest manner imaginable; but what confirmed this beyond the shadow of a doubt was that he was then [in court] trying a robbery.
The 'without' form of the expression emerged a in the mid-19th century but has faded somewhat and the 'beyond' form is now far more widely used.