Historically Speaking

Making sense of it all!

In The Closet

Posted by Elyse Bruce on April 29, 2010

The phrase “in the closet” is an abbreviated form of the phrase “skeleton in the closet.”

It’s said that if someone has a “skeleton in the closet” it’s understood that the individual has an embarrassing secret about himself or herself that he or she would prefer to keep quiet.

The expression dates back to the early 1800s when medical doctors in Britain were not permitted to work on dead bodies.  When an Act of Parliament passed in 1832 permitted physicians to dissect bodies of executed criminals for medical and medical research purposes, the population in general regarded this as a gruesome and possibly unGodly practice.

Even though the execution of criminals was commonplace in 18th century Britain, physicians rarely came across many corpses during his working life. It became common practice when a physician was fortunate enough to have the corpse of an executed criminal to keep the skeleton for additional research purposes.

It was public opinion, rather than law, that did not allow doctors to keep skeletons on open view in their workplace and so they hid their skeletons from view.  However, just because no skeletons could be seen didn’t mean to most people that  doctors weren’t keeping skeletons hidden somewhere in their homes or offices.  The most logical of places to hide a tall but skinny skeleton was in the closet and thus was born the phrase “skeletons in the closet.”

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