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The meaning and origin of the expression:From pillar to post

From pillar to post

What's the meaning of the phrase 'From pillar to post'?

From one place to another, haphazardly and to little purpose.

What's the origin of the phrase 'From pillar to post'?

The origin of the phrase is unknown but what is known is that it is old. It dates from at least the 16th century, when it appeared in print in Vox Populi, circa 1550, which was reprinted in W. C. Hazlitt's Remains of the early popular poetry of England in 1866:

From piller vnto post The powr man he was tost.

An earlier form of the expression was 'from post to pillar', which is effectively the same as far as meaning goes. This appears in the 15th century dream poem The Assembly of Gods. This work is usually ascribed to John Lydgate, although not everyone agrees about that:

Whyche doon he hym sent to Contrycion, And fro thensforth to Satysfaccion; Thus fro poost to pylour he was made to daunce.

From pillar to postSome etymologists have suggested that the posts and pillars were those of a Real Tennis court and there certainly were such courts in existence when the phrase was derived. There doesn't appear to be anything to support that theory other than plausibility, which renders it in the general vicinity of guesswork.

It is more likely that the expressions is merely a more colourful variant of 'from here to there' and has no specific story attached to it.

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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