What does “pillar to post” mean?

'Pillar to Post' is a popular idiom that originated in England during the 16th century. Learn more about its historical references and linguistic evolution here!

Origins of ‘Pillar to Post’

‘Pillar to Post’ is an idiom that means to be sent from one place to another repeatedly, often without achieving anything.

The idiom is believed to have originated in England during the 16th century.

Here are three brief definitions of the idiom:

  • To be sent from one place to another repeatedly
  • To be moved around without achieving anything
  • To be shuffled from one place to another without a clear purpose

Here are three example sentences that use the idiom:

  1. After losing his job, John was sent from pillar to post by the employment agency.
  2. The customer service representative kept sending the customer from post to pillar without addressing their issue.
  3. The politician was shuffled from pillar to post during the campaign, never staying in one place for too long.

Here are three synonyms of the idiom:

  • Tossed around
  • Shuffled back and forth
  • Sent on a wild goose chase

Historical References

The origin of the idiom is uncertain, but it is believed to have originated in England during the 16th century.

The phrase appeared in print in Vox Populi, circa 1550, which was reprinted in W. C. Hazlitt’s Remains of the early popular poetry of England in 1866.

The line in the poem reads: “From piller vnto post The powr man he was tost.”

Are “Herculean task” and “pillar to post” both idioms?

Yes, “Herculean task” and “pillar to post” are both idioms.

The meaning of Herculean task refers to a very difficult and demanding task, while the meaning of “pillar to post” refers to moving from one place or thing to another without any progress or success.

Linguistic Evolution

The linguistic evolution of the idiom is also unclear, but it is believed to have originated from a literal interpretation of the phrase.

One theory is that the idiom 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.

Another theory is that the phrase originated from the assembly of gods, a poem by John Lydgate, in which the phrase “from post to pillar” is used.

Over time, the phrase evolved to “from pillar to post.”

In conclusion, the origins of ‘Pillar to Post’ are uncertain, but it is believed to have originated in England during the 16th century.

The phrase has evolved over time, and it is now widely used as an idiom to describe being sent from one place to another repeatedly without achieving anything.