Also found in: Dictionary, Thesaurus, Acronyms, Encyclopedia, Wikipedia.
canary in a coal mine
Something or someone who, due to sensitivity to his, her, or its surroundings, acts as an indicator and early warning of possible adverse conditions or danger. Refers to the former practice of taking caged canaries into coal mines. The birds would die if methane gas became present and thereby alert miners to the danger. Wildlife in disaster movies assumes the role of the canary in a coal mine, fleeing the scene when catastrophe is imminent. Unaware that he had been given the test drug, John was used as a canary in a coal mine to see its effects on the human mind.
haul (someone) over the coals
To scold, reprimand, or reprove someone severely for an error or mistake. I was hauled over the coals by my boss last week for messing up the accounting software. I know Mary messed up, but don't haul her over the coals too hard for it.
rake over old coals
To revisit, dredge up, or talk about something that happened in the past, especially that which is unpleasant. Primarily heard in UK. Now, now, there's no need to rake over old coals, that disagreement happened a long time ago.
blow the coals
To turn a minor issue into a major source of conflict. Likened to coaxing a smoldering flame into a fire by literally blowing on hot coals. Stop trying to blow the coals! There is no tension between Jen and me—you're imagining it! A: "What went wrong last night?" B: "Well, you know Sue, she just kept blowing the coals until everybody was in an all-out fight."
To allow oneself to be mocked or humiliated. You shut your mouth right now! I refuse to carry coals just because you're angry about work!
heap coals of fire on (one's) head
To make a special effort to induce feelings of guilt or remorse in another person. Why are you citing all these examples of times I wronged you? Why are you heaping coals of fire on my head?
at the coalface
Actively doing a certain job. These reports are just speculation—they didn't consult anyone actually at the coalface. I earned my retirement after 30 years at the coalface.
drag (one) over the coals
To scold, reprimand, or reprove someone severely for an error or mistake. I was dragged over the coals by my boss last week for messing up the accounting software. I know Mary messed up, but don't drag her over the coals too hard for it.
carry coals to Newcastle
To do something redundant, frivolous, or unnecessary. Newcastle was once a major coal supplier. We definitely don't need to bring any toys when we go over their house—they have so many that bringing more would be like carrying coals to Newcastle.
take coals to Newcastle
To do something redundant, frivolous, or unnecessary. Newcastle was once a major coal supplier. We definitely don't need to bring any toys when we go over their house—they have so many that bringing more would be like taking coals to Newcastle.
rake (one) over the coals
To scold, reprimand, or reprove one severely for an error or mistake. I was raked over the coals by my boss last week for messing up the accounting software. I know Mary messed up, but don't rake her over the coals too hard for it.
be raking over the coals
To be dwelling on something unpleasant. Primarily heard in UK. Yeah, you made a mistake, but it's one we can easily fix, so stop raking over the coals.
pour on coal
old-fashioned To increase one's speed, effort, or energy. An allusion to steam-powered locomotives, which use coal furnaces to create steam. We're going to be merging onto the highway soon, so be sure to pour on coal before we reach the on ramp. What a comeback! They've certainly poured on coal since halftime, haven't they?
coals to Newcastle
Needless or superfluous action. (Newcastle was long the epicenter of coal mining in England.) Typically used in the phrases "carry coals to Newcastle" and "take coals to Newcastle." Why did you bring DVDs with you when I have a home theater? That's like carrying coals to Newcastle.
pour on the coal
old-fashioned To increase one's speed, effort, or energy. An allusion to a steam-powered locomotive, which uses a coal furnace to create steam that controls the train's speed. We're going to be merging onto the highway soon, so be sure to pour on the coal before we reach the on ramp. What a come back! They've certainly poured on the coal since halftime, haven't they?
carry coals to Newcastle
Prov. to do something unnecessary; to do something that is redundant or duplicative. (Newcastle is an English town from which coal was shipped to other parts of England.) Mr. Smith is so rich he doesn't need any more money. To give him a gift certificate is like carrying coals to Newcastle.
rake someone over the coalsand haul someone over the coals
Fig. to give someone a severe scolding. My mother hauled me over the coals for coming in late last night. The manager raked me over the coals for being late again.
black as night
Also, black as coal or pitch . Totally black; also, very dark. For example, The well was black as night, or She had eyes that were black as coal. These similes have survived while others-black as ink, a raven, thunder, hell, the devil, my hat, the minister's coat, the ace of spades-are seldom if ever heard today. Of the current objects of comparison, pitch may be the oldest, so used in Homer's Iliad (c. 850 b.c.), and coal is mentioned in a Saxon manuscript from a.d. 1000. John Milton used black as night in Paradise Lost (1667).
carry coals to Newcastle
Do or bring something superfluous or unnecessary, as in Running the sprinkler while it's raining, that's carrying coals to Newcastle. This metaphor was already well known in the mid-1500s, when Newcastle-upon-Tyne had been a major coal-mining center for 400 years. It is heard less often today but is not yet obsolete.
pour on the coal
Speed up, as in They keep passing us so pour on the coal, Mom! or We can get this issue of the paper out on time if we pour on the coal. This slangy expression originated in aviation in the 1930s but must have been an allusion to the coal-burning engines of trains and ships, since aircraft were never so powered. It has since been transferred to other vehicles and other endeavors.
rake over the coals
Also, haul over the coals. Reprimand severely, as in When Dad finds out about the damage to the car, he's sure to rake Peter over the coals, or The coach hauled him over the coals for missing practice. These terms allude to the medieval torture of pulling a heretic over red-hot coals. [Early 1800s]
at the coalfacemainly BRITISH
When people talk about what is happening at the coalface of a particular profession, they are talking about the thoughts and actions of the people who are actually doing the job. The problem is that middle management simply don't know what is going on at the coalface. The aim is to show politicians the impact of their policies at the coalface. Note: This expression is used to suggest that these are the people who really know about the profession. Note: In a coal mine, the coalface is the part where the coal is being cut out of the rock.
haul someone over the coalsBRITISH or
rake someone over the coals
If a person, especially someone in authority, hauls someone over the coals or rakes someone over the coals, they speak to them very severely about something foolish or wrong that they have done. Lewis was hauled over the coals by English football authorities over his conduct in the match. Taylor was hauled over the coals for wasting police time. She was raked over the coals by an opponent who compared her to a convicted tax evader. Note: This expression may refer to a practice in medieval times of deciding whether or not someone was guilty of heresy, or saying things which disagreed with the teachings of the Church. The person accused of heresy was dragged over burning coals. If they burned to death they were considered guilty, but if they survived, they were considered innocent.
like taking coals to Newcastleor
like carrying coals to Newcastle
If you describe an action as being like taking coals to Newcastle or like carrying coals to Newcastle, you mean that you are giving things to someone or something that already has plenty of that thing. Sending guns to this region would be like taking coals to Newcastle. Note: You can also say that an action is like selling coals to Newcastle or simply talk about coals to Newcastle. Selling order and tidiness to Germans sounds like selling coals to Newcastle. More clothes for Nicola? Talk about coals to Newcastle! Note: You can also talk about a coals-to-Newcastle situation. Selling technology of this sort to Japan might seem a coals-to-Newcastle affair. Note: The city of Newcastle was the main centre of England's coal-mining industry for over 150 years.
be raking over the coalsor
be raking over the ashesmainly BRITISH
If someone is raking over the coals or is raking over the ashes, they are talking about something that happened in the past which you think should now be forgotten. Yes, we made mistakes in the past, but let us not waste time raking over the coals when there is hard work to be done. Why must we keep raking over the ashes, causing distress to so many people?
coals to Newcastlesomething brought or sent to a place where it is already plentiful.
Coal from Newcastle-upon-Tyne in northern England was famously abundant in previous centuries, and carry coals to Newcastle has been an expression for an unnecessary activity since the mid 17th century.
haul someone over the coalsreprimand someone severely.
This expression originated in a form of torture that involved dragging the victim over the coals of a slow fire.
heap coals of fire on someone's headgo out of your way to cause someone to feel remorse. British
This phrase is of biblical origin: ‘if thine enemy hunger, feed him; if he thirst, give him drink: for in so doing thou shalt heap coals of fire on his head’ (Romans 12:20).
at the coalfaceengaged in work at an active rather than a theoretical level in a particular field. British
1998 Town and Country Planning Workers at the coalface of sustainable development need these success stories.
pour on coalincrease speed. US informal
The metaphor is based on the shovelling of more coal into a locomotive's furnace.
rake over (old) coals (or rake over the ashes)revive the memory of a past event which is best forgotten. chiefly British
at the ˈcoalface(British English) where the real work is done, not just where people talk about it: Many of the best ideas come from doctors at the coalface.
A coalface is the place deep inside a mine where the coal is actually cut out of the rock.
(carry/take) coals to ˈNewcastle(British English) (supply) something that there is already a lot of: Exporting wine to France would be like taking coals to Newcastle.
Newcastle-upon-Tyne, in the north of England, was once an important coal-mining centre.
haul somebody over the ˈcoals(British English) (American English rake somebody over the ˈcoals) (informal) criticize somebody very strongly for something they have done: I was hauled over the coals for being late.This was once a form of torture (= an act of causing somebody severe pain as a punishment or to make them say something) in which a person was pulled over hot or burning pieces of coal.
rake over the coals
To reprimand severely.
coals to Newcastle
Any unnecessary activity. Before the days of railroading, goods and commodities were transported by water. Coal in particular was shipped to port city of Newcastle before being distributed to the rest of England. Therefore, unless you were the captain of a ship laden with coal, carrying that kind of fossil fuel to Newcastle was a waste of your time and energy.