writing on the wall
From the Biblical story in Daniel 5, where, during a feast held by King Belshazzar, a hand suddenly appears and writes on a wall the following Aramaic words: מְנֵא מְנֵא תְּקֵל וּפַרְסִין (mənē mənē təqēl ūp̄arsīn, “numbered, numbered, weighed, and they are divided”) (Daniel 5:25). Daniel interprets the words as pointing to the downfall of the Babylonian Empire.
- (Received Pronunciation) IPA(key): /ˈɹaɪtɪŋ ɒn ðə ˈwɔːl/
- (General American) IPA(key): /ˈɹaɪtɪŋ ɑn ðə ˈwɔl/, [ˈɹaɪ̯ɾɪŋ]
- Hyphenation: writ‧ing on the wall
- (idiomatic) An ominous warning; a prediction of bad luck.
He could see the writing on the wall months before the business failed.
2011, M. P. Prabhakaran, “Goa was Not a Settler Colony as Falkland is”, in Letters on India The New York Times Did Not Publish, Pittsburgh, Pa.: RoseDog Books, ISBN 978-1-4349-8529-3, page 43:
- The Portuguese refused to read the writings on the wall and clung to their colonies, including the one in India.
2012, Jan Nederveen Pieterse, “Global Rebalancing: Crisis and the East-South Turn”, in Jan Nederveen Pieterse and Jongtae Kim, editors, Globalization and Development in East Asia (Routledge Studies in Emerging Societies; 2), New York, N.Y.; Abingdon, Oxon.: Routledge, ISBN 978-0-415-80703-6, page 36:
- Without a doubt these trends represent the "next big thing". Consider a sampling of recent headlines as writings on the wall: […]
2014 September 15, Rhonda Cook, “Regulator may push for state-mandated Taser training”, in The Atlanta Journal-Constitution, archived from the original on 25 October 2016:
- It gets to the point to where you see so much writing on the wall where we may not have a choice but to step in and say 'yes, you will train every year and you'll report that training to POST' in order for things to be done right.
As an uncountable noun, the phrase alludes to a vague set of ominous indications. As a countable noun, the singular refers to a specific warning.