What Is a Potter’s Field? – Meaning and 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.

A potter’s field is a place for the burial of unknown or indigent people, aka those who can’t afford a proper burial. It might bring up images of clay and pottery, but this idiom’s not just a throwaway phrase; it has weight and history.

Idioms are metaphorical words or phrases we use to communicate in more visual ways. They elevate our language, but only if used correctly. Potter’s field holds a more literal context but is still considered an idiom.

So, like the good teacher I am, I’ll explain the true meaning and history behind this idiom’s origin and share a few sentence examples that show how to use it. Keep reading!

The Meaning of Potter’s Field

What Is a Potters Field – Meaning and Origin

Potter’s field refers to a burial ground designated for those who were unknown, indigent, or transient during their lives. While the name might suggest an association with potters or pottery, it’s more a reflection of the unused or marginal nature of these lands than any direct link to pottery craft.

Though it stands as an idiom in modern parlance, its application often extends beyond metaphor. Even today, we invoke potter’s field to identify locations characterized by unmarked graves, symbolizing the resting places of souls who, in life, might have been overlooked or marginalized. Through this, the term serves as a poignant reminder of the impermanence of life and the universality of death, urging societies to remember and respect all individuals, regardless of their social or economic standing.

Is It Potters Field or Potter’s Field?

The correct term is potter’s field, with an apostrophe clarifying possession. It’s the field of the potter, after all.

Origin and Etymology of Potter’s Field

Potters Field Ngram
Potter’s field usage trend.

Would you believe that this idiom has Biblical ties? The term “potter’s field” has its origin in the New Testament of the Bible. According to Matthew 27:3-8, after Judas Iscariot betrayed Jesus, he tried to return the 30 silver coins he was paid.

When the chief priests refused them, he threw the coins into the temple, then went and hanged himself nearby. Those same priests bought an empty plot of land with those coins and used it to bury strangers. The field was named “Field of Blood” due to its association with Judas’ act because it was bought with blood money.

In modern times, the phrase “potter’s field” has transcended its Biblical roots, evolving into a term emblematic of burial sites designated for those without known identities or those lacking the means for a private burial. It stands as a somber testament to humanity’s shared fate, irrespective of our actions or statuses in life.

Potter’s Field Synonyms

  • Pauper’s graveyard
  • Common grave
  • Indigent burial ground
  • Mass burial site
  • Beggar’s burial plot

Potter’s Field Examples in a Sentence

What Is a Potters Field – Meaning and Origin 1

Here are a few examples of this historical idiom in action to give you a better idea of how to use it yourself.

  • The city finally designated a plot as a potter’s field for those without known friends or families.
  • Some believe the old cemetery to be a potter’s field from the 1800s.
  • So many ancient cities had their version of a potter’s field to respectfully bury the unknown.
  • Archeologists discovered remnants suggesting the site was once a potter’s field filled with unmarked graves.
  • A memorial now stands at the once-forgotten potter’s field, and a civic holiday elected.
  • The novel portrays the struggles of those buried in a local potter’s field.
  • Urban legends about the potter’s field fueled tons of campfire tales over the years.
  • Historical records show the land’s transition from a potter’s field to a park.
  • Locals aim to preserve the old potter’s field as a historical site.
  • The mystery novel is set around hidden treasures in an ancient potter’s field.

Rest in Peace

Potter’s field is more than just an idiom; it’s a reflection of societal norms and human history that goes back to biblical times. Now that you understand how to use it, try and work it into a conversation sometime. Uncover more idioms you can adopt right here on our site!