Gnome (nome or no’-mee): One of several terms describing short, pithy sayings. Others include adage, apothegm, maxim, paroemia, proverb, and sententia.
“The handwriting’s on the wall.” Sayings are supposed to help you with their compact helpings of wisdom. I have never understood “the handwriting on the wall” thing. I’ve seen plenty of handwriting on the walls of men’s rooms—99% of it sexual— the rest fart jokes, racist insults, reputation attacks, love letters to Trump, and quotes from Ayn Rand’s Atlas Shrugged. “Who is John Galt?” they ask. I could care less. I care more about the hangnail that’s wreaking havoc on my pinky.
Another possible meaning is that something you’ve done is public knowledge—everybody knows about it and there’s no place to hide—it’s a public wall that everybody walks past and everybody reads. It could say something like “Barbara is a dummy.” That’s it for Barbara: “the handwriting’s on the wall.” There are no public walls where I live, so the public wall idea would not apply to my town—we have to use restroom walls to besmirch and libel people we hardly know.
Another possible meaning of the saying is far-fetched and not very easy to believe, especially if you live in the 21st century like we do! What if “handwriting” is a metaphor for prophecy? Something “written” before it comes—something inevitable. I don’t know why it has to be on a wall—it could be on a piece of paper. My Grandpa used the saying on me: “Son, you’re going to prison, the handwriting’s on the wall.” I think the “handwriting” was all the bad things I’d done, from kidnapping dogs to selling stolen merchandise—blenders, tool sets, lawnmowers, etc.
Grandpa was right. The handwriting was on the wall. I served 2 years in state prison for “the transportation and sale of stolen goods.” Why did it take until now to “get” what Grandpa was trying to tell me? Well it’s like they say, “Actions speaker louder than walls.”
Definition courtesy of “Silva Rhetoricae” (rhetoric.byu.edu).
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