November 13, 2008

Carrying Coal to Newcastle

Meaning - To do something that is obviously superfluous

The phrase, "carrying coals to Newcastle," means spending an inordinate amount of energy on something useless, fruitless, or redundant. This idiom arose in the 15th century because Newcastle, England was known throughout the country as a major exporter of coal. Therefore, "carrying coals to Newcastle" would do you no good, because there was more coal there than anywhere else. Variations on the saying include "bringing," "taking," or "moving" the coal.


Other countries have similar phrases; in German it's 'taking owls to Athens' (the inhabitants of Athens already having sufficient wisdom). 'Selling snow to Eskimos', which in many people's understanding is also the same, has a different connotation. Both the Dutch and Spanish having sayings, 'like bringing water to the ocean'. In Poland and Sweden, you'd hear, 'bringing wood to the forest'. Some regionally specific idioms for redundancy include Russia's 'taking samovars to Tulu,' a city famous for its spigotted teapots.

Ironically, in 2004 Newcastle began importing coal from Russia.
Sources: Wisegeek.com, Phrases.org

2 comments:

Moi said...

awesome!!!! loved it!!!!

kinda on the lines of (not exactly though) "preaching to the choir/converted"

I was wondering if there is an Indian equivalent....I am trying to jog my Hindi-speaking memory cells!!! :)

And I'm ready for the challenge.....but wait till I throw you one :)

666 said...

m sure there must be no one but plenty amazing hindi/urdu equivalents. Wish we could cover hindi origins as well. I find 'kaali billi rasta kaat gayee' so fascinating