Skeleton in the closet and skeleton in the cupboard

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A skeleton in the closet and a skeleton in the cupboard are idioms that have been around since the 1800s. An idiom is a phrase that is used figuratively and is generally not to be taken literally. We will examine the meaning of a skeleton in the closet and a skeleton in the cupboard, where the terms come from and some examples of their use in sentences.

A skeleton in the closet is a piece of information that is hidden away due to its scandalous nature or ability to negatively impact one’s reputation, future or chances of success. The idiom first appeared in the early 1800s in England as a skeleton in the closet, though today the American form is a skeleton in the closet and the English form is a skeleton in the cupboard. The origin is uncertain. Once theory is that a skeleton in the closet and a skeleton in the cupboard, is related to the unsavory business of body snatching in the early 1800s. Another theory sees a correlation to Gothic stories where a body was often hidden in the house, such as the story The Black Cat written by Edgar Allen Poe. Still others see a skeleton in the closet as an echo of the story of Bluebeard. The plural forms are skeletons in the closet and skeletons in the cupboard.


Although athletes and bodybuilders may want people to think their strength, endurance and physical fitness are due entirely to hard work, the use of performance-enhancing drugs have become the fitness industry’s skeleton in the closet. (The Gaffney Ledger)

“We were a very private family and it was quite hard to let out all the skeletons in the closet but in all, it’s a happy story and I am so proud of Saroo.” (The Daily Telegraph)

You have to sign up to the statement: ‘I do not have any skeletons in my cupboard that may cause me or UKIP embarrassment if they were to come out during the election’.  (The Daily Mail)