Chickens come home to roost

Chickens come home to roost is an idiom that is hundreds of years old An idiom is a commonly used word, group of words, or phrase that has a figurative meaning that is not easily deduced from its literal definition. Often using descriptive imagery or metaphors, common idioms are words and phrases used in the English language in order to convey a concise idea, and are often spoken or are considered informal or conversational. English idioms can illustrate emotion more quickly than a phrase that has a literal meaning, even when the etymology or origin of the idiomatic expression is lost. An idiom is a metaphorical figure of speech, and it is understood that it is not a use of literal language. Figures of speech like an often-used metaphor have definitions and connotations that go beyond the literal meaning of the words. Mastery of the turn of phrase of an idiom, which may use slang words or other parts of speech, is essential for the English learner. Many English as a Second Language students do not understand idiomatic expressions and idiomatic language such as in a blue moon, spill the beans, let the cat out of the bag, silver lining, back to the drawing board, barking up the wrong tree, kick the bucket, hit the nail on the head, face the music, under the weather, piece of cake, when pigs fly, and raining cats and dogs, because they attempt to translate them word for word, which yields only the literal meaning. English phrases that are idioms should not be taken literally. In addition to learning vocabulary and grammar, one must understand the phrasing of the figurative language of idiomatic phrases in order to know English like a native speaker; it is helpful to maintain a list of phrases, common expressions, colloquial terms, and popular expressions to memorize that are used figuratively or idiomatically. We will examine the meaning of the idiom chickens come home to roost, where it came from, and some examples of its idiomatic usage in sentences.

Chickens come home to roost is an idiom that describes a situation in which one suffers the consequences of one’s previous bad actions or mistakes. The first rendition of this idiom occurs in Geoffrey Chaucer’s The Parson’s Tale written in the 1390s: “And ofte tyme swich cursynge wrongfully retorneth agayn to hym that curseth, as a bryd that retorneth agayn to his owene nest.” In this case, the image is of a bird returning to its nest. Robert Southey is credited with inventing the expression chickens come home to roost in his 1810 poem, The Curse of Kehama: “…for curses, like chickens, come home to roost.” Today, only the later half of the idiom, chickens come home to roost, is still in use.


“This year with COVID, diesel prices way down . . . and you use today’s (oil) prices, the chickens come home to roost.” (The Calgary Herald)

Protester Fran Witt urged the Conservative councillor “not to let East Sussex County Council’s fossil fuel chickens come home to roost”. (The Argus)

Here a bump, there a bump, and one day the chickens come home to roost. (The Las Vegas Sun)

Column: Will the economic chickens come home to roost in 2019? (The Los Angeles Times)

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