Tuesday, September 8, 2009

Forgotten English: Under the Rose

Under the rose: In strict confidence.
-J.B. Lippincott's Everyday Phrases Explained, 1913

According to Jeffrey Kacirk: "The rose has long been employed as an antidote to gossip."

And Wallace's Popular Sayings Dissected (1895) explained:

In the banqueting rooms of the mansions of preceding centuries it was a common custom to introduce into the decoration of the ceiling a sculptured rose to remind guests that what had been said sub vino should remain sub rosa, the idea of secrecy surrounding this flower being due to the legend the Cupid gave Harpocrates, teh God of Silence, a rose to bribe him not to betray the amours of Venus.

In Dictionary of Dates (1841) it also says that
The rose, the symbol of silence, gave rise to the phrase, 'under the rose,' from the pope's presenting consecrated roses, which were placed over confessionals, to denote secrecy, in 1526.
Merrily, merrily, fuddle thy nose,
until it right rosy shall be;
For a jolly red nose, I speak under the rose,
Is a sign of good company.

(anonymous Glossary of North Country Words (1825)

I've heard this phrase before, but I wasn't quite sure of its meaning...oh, how language fascinates me!


  1. that's interesting...we've always thought red roses were for love..right? and yet they stand for silence? odd...

  2. I have never heard of this before! Is it something like what is said here, "What happens in Vegas, stays in Vegas."

  3. Kim, yeah, it sounds like it could be used like that!

    Okbolover, love and roses, to keep our silence maybe when we're mad at our lovers!! he he

  4. That's really cool! I had no idea (I'm not sure I'd even heard the phrase)! Thanks for sharing with us!


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