coal


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Related to coal: charcoal, petroleum

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.
See also: canary, coal, mine

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.
See also: coal, haul, over

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.
See also: coal, old, over, rake

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."
See also: blow, coal

carry coals

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!
See also: carry, coal

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?
See also: coal, fire, head, heap, of, on

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.
See also: coal, drag, over

carry coals to Newcastle

To take needless or superfluous action. (Newcastle was long the epicenter of coal mining in England.) You don't need to bring any toys for Jack when you go over Laura's. That would be like carrying coals to Newcastle—they have every toy imaginable.
See also: carry, coal, Newcastle

take coals to Newcastle

To do something redundant, frivolous, or unnecessary. (Newcastle was a major coal supplier until the early 20th century.) This derivative, unimaginative sequel takes coals to Newcastle for its entire runtime. If you saw the first film, you've already seen this one, too. He always has a shower after a bath, which seems like taking coals to Newcastle if you ask me.
See also: coal, Newcastle, take

rake (one) over the coals

To scold, reprimand, or reprove someone 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.
See also: coal, over, rake

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.
See also: coal, over, rake

pour on coal

old-fashioned To increase one's speed, effort, or energy. An allusion to steam-powered locomotives, 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 coal before we reach the on ramp. What a come back! They've certainly poured on coal since halftime, haven't they?
See also: coal, on, pour

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.
See also: carry, coal, Newcastle

rake someone over the coals

 and 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.
See also: coal, over, rake

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).
See also: black, night

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.
See also: carry, coal, Newcastle

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.
See also: coal, on, pour

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]
See also: coal, over, rake

at the coalface

mainly 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 coals

BRITISH 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.
See also: coal, haul, over, someone

like taking coals to Newcastle

or

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.
See also: coal, like, Newcastle, taking

be raking over the coals

or

be raking over the ashes

mainly 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?
See also: coal, over, rake

coals to Newcastle

something 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.
See also: coal, Newcastle

haul someone over the coals

reprimand someone severely.
This expression originated in a form of torture that involved dragging the victim over the coals of a slow fire.
See also: coal, haul, over, someone

heap coals of fire on someone's head

go 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).
See also: coal, fire, head, heap, of, on

at the coalface

engaged 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 coal

increase speed. US informal
The metaphor is based on the shovelling of more coal into a locomotive's furnace.
See also: coal, on, pour

rake over (old) coals (or rake over the ashes)

revive the memory of a past event which is best forgotten. chiefly British
See also: coal, over, rake

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.
See also: coal, Newcastle

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.
See also: coal, haul, over, somebody

rake over the coals

To reprimand severely.
See also: coal, over, rake

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.
See also: coal, Newcastle
References in classic literature ?
It was Bill Totts, looking out of those eyes, who saw the inevitable end of the battle on the coal waggon.
But the three policemen were flung far and wide, and Bill Totts, raining down lumps of coal, held the fort.
The captain led gallantly to the attack, but was bowled over by a chunk of coal that burst on his head in black baptism.
Bill took the warning and with well-directed coal cleared the front end of the waggon of assailants.
Many policemen crawled under the coal waggon for safety, while the loose horses, with here and there a policeman on their backs or struggling at their heads to hold them, surged across the sidewalk opposite the jam and broke into Market Street.
It was beautifully calm, and in the brilliant white moonlight we watched them through our night glasses and told Charley of the voyage of the Coal Tar Maggie.
It was the nation's deadliest coal mine accident in seventeen years.
Kayla had her own diagnosis: the coal processing plant and sludge impoundment operated by subsidiaries of Massey Energy that loom right above the school.
Synthetic-fuel technology has the potential to turn America's enormous deposits of coal into cost-effective fuels--enough to power America deep into the 21st century and beyond.
Wiley wanted an explanation for the safety risk posed to students--particularly his 10-year-old granddaughter--who routinely inhale air contaminated with coal dust migrating from the silo.
This work involved the replacement of railroad track ties and the repair and construction of bridges and trestles, all of which involved the use of, and nearly daily handling of, coal tar creosote-treated tics and lumber.
Its political leaders simply concluded that the health and environmental costs of coal burning are too high.
Stubborn underground fires like that in Centralia aren't uncommon in coal country.
Perched atop it, two huge cranes wait to unload tons of Indonesian coal from cargo ships.
Looping through a tiny hole in a piece of strip-mining legislation, over the last 10 years Appalachia's coal industry has conducted a war of attrition against the region's environment, people, and rural tradition.