Last modified on 21 August 2014, at 18:11

potter's field

EnglishEdit

EtymologyEdit

This phrase derives from the reference to the potter's field in the New Testament, Matthew 27:7: ‘And they took counsel, and baught with them the potter's field, to bury strangers in.’ (King James Version)

NounEdit

potter's field (plural potter's fields)

  1. (idiomatic) A public place where strangers, paupers, and criminals are buried.
    • 1862. David W. Mitchell, Ten Years in the United States (Elder Smith, p. 157):
      The despised pauper, most likely a foreigner, when his spirit has gone to its final resting-place, is probably carried to the Potter's Field.
    • 1917. Anna Alice Chapin, Greenwich Village (Mead Dodd, p. 10):
      There was a Potter's Field, a cemetery for the poor and friendless, far out in the country.
    • 1925. Hastings Hornell Hart, Two Reports on the Reorganization and Reconstruction of the New York Prison System (Prison Association of New York 1925, p. 30):
      Hart's Island has been used for the past 50 years as a potter's field for the burial of the paupers.
    • 1941 (amendment): Administrative Code of the City of New York, 21-110, originally chapter 24, Department of Public Welfare, Title A, 603-10.0 (also 1953; this is the current, 2007, version):
      Potter's field. The commissioner shall have charge of the Potter's Fields, and when the necessity therefor shall arise, shall have power to lay out additional Potter's Fields or other public burial places for the poor and strangers and from time to time enclose and extend the same to make enclosures therein and to build vaults therein, and to provide all necessary labor and for interments therein. The Potter's Field on Hart's island, however, shall remain under the control of the department of correction, and the burial of deceased paupers therein shall continue under rules and regulations established by the joint action of the departments of social services and correction, or in case of disagreement between such departments, under such regulations as may be established by the mayor.

Usage notesEdit

  • The phrase appears to be rare outside the United States, where it is still found as a legal term in codes, notably in NYC.

ReferencesEdit

  • Bible, New Testament: Matthew 27:7.
  • Potter's field, in the Webster's New Collegiate Dictionary, Merriam-Webster, 1974 edition.