From Pillar to Post – Idiom, Meaning & Origin

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Candace Osmond

Candace Osmond studied Advanced Writing & Editing Essentials at MHC. She’s been an International and USA TODAY Bestselling Author for over a decade. And she’s worked as an Editor for several mid-sized publications. Candace has a keen eye for content editing and a high degree of expertise in Fiction.

Have you ever heard the phrase “from pillar to post”? My grandpa used to say “from pillow to post,” but he was an old Newfoundlander and pronounced many words differently! The correct phrase uses the word pillar, but let’s take a deeper look at the medieval origin and usage of this phrase.

What Does It Mean ‘Pillar to Post’?

From Pillar to Post Idiom Meaning Origin

The from pillar to post meaning basically comes down to moving from one place or situation to another without finding a solution or gaining any progress. We often use it to describe a frustrating experience where we go through a series of locations or situations without finding what we are looking for.

It brings to my mind parenting. I’m always trying to get from one place to another or achieve some sort of goal, but with children, we never quite feel like we get there.

Like house cleaning, for example. I can spend the day tidying and cleaning in a series of steps and tasks, but it doesn’t look like I’ve achieved anything at the end of the long, grueling day. I just went from pillar to post.

Is the Saying Pillar to Post an Idiom?

Totally, “from pillar to post” is an idiom because the phrase doesn’t have anything to do with actual pillars or posts.

Is It Pillow to Post or Pillar to Post?

The right way to say the phrase is “from pillar to post.” But I’ve heard some people may mistakenly say “pillow to post,” like my grandfather, but that’s definitely not correct. The expression “pillow to post” has zero meaning or significance but could possibly be understood by some people.

Where Does the Saying ‘From Pillar to Post’ Come From?

From Pillar to Post Ngram
From Pillar to Post Usage Trend.

The origin of “from pillar to post” has a few theories. One theory is that it comes from medieval times when people were punished by being tied to a post of some kind and then whipped until they were moved to a pillar somewhere in town for the people to view.

It even dates back to somewhere in the 16th century, as it appeared in print in Vox Populi, around 1550 (later reprinted in W. C. Hazlitt’s Remains of the early popular poetry of England in 1866), where the phrase was, “From piller vnto post The powr man he was tost.”

I’ve always known it to come from the game of tennis because players whack the ball back and forth between two pillars or posts, but the ball doesn’t go anywhere.

Some Pillar to Post Synonyms

  • Back and forth
  • Here and there
  • From one place to another
  • All over the place
  • Up and down
  • In circles

How Do You Use From Pillar to Post in a Sentence?

Seeing a few examples in a sentence should give you a better idea of using this idiomatic phrase.

  • After being told to go from pillar to post, my client was frustrated with the lack of help from their last designer, so they were very grateful for the support I provided.
  • It’s not right that the homeless man had to go from pillar to post to find shelter for the night.
  • Back in the day, I went from pillar to post, trying to find a job in a tough job market before I finally went back to school.
  • My son went from pillar to post, trying to find the right resources to finish his research paper on dinosaurs.
  • The tourist went from pillar to post trying to navigate the complex subway system in a foreign city.
  • I went from pillar to post this weekend, trying to clean my house and entertain my kids at the same time.

Final Words

And that’s it on this idiomatic phrase that dates back to medieval times! I hope you have a much clearer understanding of it and can confidently use it in your conversation and even writing. We break down all kinds of idioms like rags to riches, soup to nuts, and more, so check them out!