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The meaning and origin of the expression: Beyond a shadow of a doubt

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'?

Beyond a shadow of a doubtThe 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.

Gary Martin - the author of the website.

By Gary Martin

Gary Martin is a writer and researcher on the origins of phrases and the creator of the Phrase Finder website. Over the past 26 years more than 700 million of his pages have been downloaded by readers. He is one of the most popular and trusted sources of information on phrases and idioms.

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