Humpty Dumpty sat on one, so did two little dicky birds, while ten green bottles were hanging from one.
I’m referring to a wall, which comes from the Latin vallum, meaning ‘a rampart’ or ‘row of stakes’. To go to the wall means ‘to fail in business’, while to face the wall is ‘to prepare to die’. Off the wall means ‘unconventional’ and to have your back to the wall is ‘to struggle in a difficult situation with no way out’.
In fact, we have wall-to-wall expressions for wall. To feel walled in is ‘to feel claustrophobic’ while to drive someone up the wall is ‘to be very annoying’. To climb the walls means ‘to be nearly driven mad with worry’ and to go over the wall is ‘to escape’ (from prison).
When you’re bouncing off the walls, you’re ‘full of nervous or excited energy’ but banging your head against a brick wall is ‘wasting time trying to accomplish something hopeless’.
A party wall is a shared wall between two dwellings and a fly on the wall is a position where you can see and hear while being invisible. A hole in the wall is a casual term for an automatic cash dispenser installed in the outside wall of a bank. The writing on the wall is the foreknowledge of future misfortune or doom, visible to all.
A wall of death is the name for a giant cylinder at a fairground, in which motorcyclists ride around the inner wall. A wall of silence is the strict secretiveness maintained by a group, when giving information could jeopardise their interests.
Historically, to give someone the wall is ‘to allow him/her to walk on the cleaner side of pavement’ and a wallflower is an old-fashioned term for a girl at a party who doesn’t dance because she has no partner.
Some famous walls are The Wailing Wall of Jerusalem, The Great Wall Of China, The Berlin Wall and Hadrian’s Wall.
Between you and me and the wall, ie ‘tell no-one’ but walls have ears, ‘somebody may be listening’!