Carry Coals To Newcastle

Meanings of “Carry Coals To Newcastle”

The phrase “carry coals to Newcastle” means to say something, or do something that is entirely superfluous and pointless. This phrase is used in instances where doing something will not yield any results and the entire effort would be a waste. It is also used when someone has already done a particular thing and there’s no need to repeat it.

Origin of “Carry Coals To Newcastle”

The phrase “carry coals to Newcastle” has been derived from the Newcastle Upon Tyne, which was the first exporting port in the UK. It was a well-established and renowned coal-mining center from the middle ages.  Therefore, it was a common joke that nobody carries coals to Newcastle. It is typically related to the English culture having equivalents in other cultures such as in German, it is equivalent to “taking owls to Athens,” while in Arab culture, it is “selling sand to Arabs.” Thomas Heywood is stated to have attributed this phrase to Queen Elizabeth, while Thomas Fuller has used it in his book, The History of Worthies of England, published in 1661. There it goes thus; “To carry Coals to Newcastle, that is to do what was done before; or to busy one’s self in a needless employment.”

Examples in Literature

Example #1

To Carry Coals to Newcastle by Max Rebo Kids

What have you done in the last few days, not much and so did I
Seems like we did our part in wasting our youth away
Do you remember the last time we talked and nearly got into a fight
Though we never seemed to disagree
And I wonder why something reeks of cowardice
Change we want to make happen
I want to change myself
And this seems like the hardest part at all
Cause I can remember all the times I tried
The times I tried to reflect myself
And it got me nowhere I wanted to just filled my head with questions
So this is another try to figure out where I am
And I found it, guess what? I’m not far away from you
But my fire’s not going to be wasted with bridges burning
We’re all the same but we are not all equal
So don’t expect me to be
What have you done in the last few days not much and so did I
Another week passed by and our chances slipped away
To be ourselves and nothing but ourselves
Failing is better than not trying at all

In the above song, the singer talks about the thematic strand of taking chances in friendship and putting up with the people you love the most. The singer narrates a tale of his friend and states that though they have had odd days and estrangements between them, they have gone nowhere despite answering all the questions that their mental faculties pose them. In fact, he is of the view that both are of the same nature, though, different physically and mentally and try to reconcile with each other. Although they fail, it is worth trying, for sometimes, you have to carry coals to Newcastle. By using this phrase as the title of the poem, the singer means that although getting along with another person might not yield any results but it is still worth the try.

 Example #2

To Lord Thurlow by Lord Byron

“Let every other bring his own.”
When coals to Newcastle are carried,
And owls sent to Athens, as wonders,
From his spouse when the Regent’s un
Or Liverpool weep o’er his blunders;

This is the last stanza of the popular poem. The poet has described the situation of a  time when Liverpool accepted his blunders and wept. The poet states that everybody should be permitted to have his own source of getting things done. Also, it means the owls were already sent by the husband before and the blunders are set to repeat. Perhaps the poet’s friend is getting remarried. Hence, repeating the same mistake.

Example #3

From The Columbian Orator edited by David W. Blight

Dialogue between Howard and Lester

Lester: Why, in the present day, a man’s preparing himself for usefulness, is like carrying coals to Newcastle. Our country is full of useful men; then, at least, to where one is wanted, and all of them ten times ready to serve the public, as the public is to be served. If every man should go to Congress that’s fit for it, the federal city would hardly hold them.

This is the response of Lester to Howard in the conversation between the two. He says that the present time has forced people to move to the capital cities with everything they have, but it seems that they are actually carrying coals to Newcastle. It means that the people going to settle in capitals are not useful and eventually will face problems. Therefore, it is similar to carrying coals to Newcastle which has been used as a simile in this passage as the word “like” before the phrase suggests.

Example #4

From Scientific and Humanistic Dimensions of Language edited by Kurt R. Jankowsky

In many areas, cultural unpredictability is complete; thus an equivalent of a saying like Carrying coals to New Castle may or may not exist in a given culture, and if it does, there is now knowing what it might be before one has actually encountered. This aspect of linguistic and cultural diversity is too well known to require further exemplification here.

This beautiful excerpt states that some phrases just happen in one culture and not in another culture, for they are associated with specific geographical markers, such as this one as it is associated with Newcastle.

Example in Sentences

Example #1: “Simon copied all the data into a pen drive. His efforts are equal to carrying coals to Newcastle because google already had a backup.”

Example #2: “Many think, the movies on any classic books could be like carrying coals to Newcastle but they are wrong most of the time.”

Example #3: “James tried to save his company from going bankrupt but it was almost like carrying coals to Newcastle until his father helped him.”

Example #4: “She tried to save their marriage but she knew it was nothing but carrying coals to Newcastle.”

Example #5: “Studying the night before the exams are nothing but carrying coals to Newcastle.”