The Writing is on the Wall

Meanings of “The Writing is on the Wall”

The phrase “the writing is on the wall” refers to a warning or a sign that indicates an unfortunate happening. It also refers to the danger we are going to face in the future.

Origin of “The Writing is on the Wall”

The phrase “the writing is on the wall” is traced initially in the King James Version of the Bible, published in 1611, where it is stated in the book of Daniel, 5:5-31. Here, the king asks the astrologers and soothsayers to predict the writing of a disembodied hand on the wall. Later Daniel interprets the words and tells the King that it was the hand of God. This led to the coining of this phrase for future predictions or what seems likely to happen. Since then, the phrase has been used in the same way by many authors, singers, and poets.

Examples in Literature

Example #1

The Writing on the Wall by Juan Olivarez

“Writings used to cover walls,
Big black boards, in lecture halls.
Or big green signs that you could read,
And warning signs that you should heed.

But the blackboard has evolved,
And I believe nothings been solved.
It’s gotten worse by far my friend,
The new blackboards are human skin.” 

In the first stanza, the speaker reflects the literal meanings of the phrase when he says that we are surrounded by different types of writings. We see writings on the walls, on boards, in lecture halls, and even on the roads. However, in the second stanza, he talks about the changing attributes of the writings. He says that the writings have become worse with time; the new boards are not artificial; rather, they are made with human skin. The phrase is not used in its exact form, but with the implied meanings.

Example #2

The Writing on The Wall by Dee Daffodil

“I drove ‘round the bend
And there it was…
Staring me right smack in the face
And sending chills down my spine
The message…
Scrawled in paint sprayed block letters…
My first thought was…
Yea right!
I tried to protect the trees
But the beggars cut ‘em down anyway!
Beautiful old oak trees
Had once occupied the land
Just above the limestone wall
It had once been beautiful farmland
Until someone decided that town homes…
Would be much more suitable!

Anyway…put the past behind me…
I can’t protect those trees anymore…
Gone…all of them!
So now my mind starts wandering…

The poem narrates the poet’s personal experience. While driving, the speaker encounters a board with a message; protect what you love. He takes that writing seriously and determines to protect the things dear to him. First, he tries to protect the trees he once had on his farm but he could not succeed. However, he does not mourn that loss and starts wondering about the next thing that needs protection. The phrase has been used as a metaphor for warning.

Example #3

Writing’s on the Wall by Sam Smith

“I’ve been here before
But always hit the floor
I’ve spent a lifetime running
And I always get away
But with you I’m feeling something
That makes me want to stay
I’m prepared for this
I never shoot to miss
But I feel like a storm is coming
If I’m gonna make it through the day
Then there’s no more use in running
This is something I gotta face
If I risk it all
Could you break my fall?
How do I live? How do I breathe?
When you’re not here I’m suffocating
I want to feel love, run through my blood
Tell me is this where I give it all up?
For you I have to risk it all
‘Cause the writing’s on the wall.”

The singer eloquently presented his woes in the above song, sung in one of James Bond films, Spectre. While talking about his hard life, he says that he is tired of this life and intends to start a new chapter with his beloved. Despite knowing the dangers involved in this decision, he is ready to risk everything.

Example #4

The Writing on The Wall by Juliet Rieden

The book presents the keen investigation of the life and demise of the author’s father and her extended family. Her father, John Rieden was saved from the tyranny of the Nazi regime and came to live in the United Kingdom, leaving his family behind. He was on a mission but unfortunately, he died before the completion. The night before his death, he sent a message to her daughter to trace the meanings of the phrase “The plane is in the hanger.” Thus, the book revolves around the investigation that leads the author to look back at the grim fate of her relative and their mark on the world. However, during the investigation, Rieden’s name appeared several times on the wall. These writings helped her unravel her father’s mysterious life. The phrase used in the title is the metaphor for an imminent danger that has become apparent.

Example in Sentences

Example #1: “Wars destroy civilians, and leave no hope and future for children. Seeing the writing on the wall, if only all the countries decide to stop the war and work on establishing peace.”

Example #2: “Theo was asking his brother to fix the drains. He warned him that the writing is clearly on the wall. If we are not going to take it seriously, we will surely face the music if the rooms are flooded.”

Example #3: “Like many other unfortunate souls, Ken also recognized the writing on the wall and saved his day.”

Example #4: “Fortunately, the manager saw the writing on the wall early and took appropriate actions to save his company and also all the employees.”

Example #5: “Advertisements with celebrities are misleading, though this writing does not seem to stick to the wall; for this writing in the wall is just an advertisement.”