The writing’s on the wall…

They’re ookey and they’re spooky …  and perhaps one of the ookiest and spookiest of the household was Thing T. Thing, the disembodied hand affectionately known as “Thing” on The Addams Family. (Baby boomers reading this now have The Addams Family finger-snapping theme song playing in their grey matter).

“Thank you, Thing” was heard often as Thing was not so ominous as it was intelligent, playful, helpful, funny, agile and even rhythmic and graceful—unlike another disembodied hand, from another idiom with a biblical origin and from whence the saying “The writing’s on the wall” is derived.

In Daniel chapter 5, King Belshazzar was hosting a feast, as kings were known to do, when a hand suddenly appeared (Is that you, Thing? Alas, no.) and began writing on the palace wall, in Aramaic. It gave a dire prediction, a warning and, as Daniel interpreted the words, a forecast of doom for the Babylonian Empire. Indeed, the hand in Daniel chapter 5 was way ookier and spookier than Thing ever was.

The idiom—thankfully minus the disembodied hand and with the writing meant figuratively—is still used today to refer to some not-so-pleasant but inevitable outcome or looming danger, or to something that is just obvious. It may be heard as “The writing’s on the wall” or some slight variation of that but with the same connotation.

As with so many of the idioms, though, their constant use (or overuse) has had a  tendency to water down the original meaning, which for this one renders it as not so ookey or spooky. Occasionally, the idiom is used when its meaning is more nebulous. Consider the following, for instance, even though we’ll all know the answer by the time this is published: “What do you think the outcome of the 2019 election will be?”

“Meh. I think the writing’s on the wall.” (Now that’s a nice, safe answer, isn’t it, because no one knows what that meant and, being politically correct, they’re not going to ask.)

The modern-day usage of this idiom is far more casual than its biblical counterpart, with less of a doomsday feel to it and with a little more of Thing’s intelligence and wit. Thank you, Thing!

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