To send someone to Coventry

Example in use: “Why is John looking so unhappy?” “Oh ignore him. We’ve sent him to Coventry for refusing to vote with the rest of us about the changes to our work contract that we are against. Just pretend he’s not even there. He needs to understand that we must all stand together on this point.”

Meaning: to refuse to speak to someone even if they are present, to pretend someone is not even there or you can’t hear them

Possible German equivalent: jemanden kaltstellen

Possible origin: Sources generally agree that this idiom appears to have come into use during the British Civil War. Coventry was known as a town loyal to Thomas Cromwell and the Parliamentarians. In 1648, Royalist soldiers (loyal to the King) were captured in nearby Birmingham and sent to Coventry – literally. The locals, supporters of the Civil War movement shunned the soldiers and refused to have anything to do with them.

It is not until 1765 that the expression appears in print, in the Club Book of the Tarporley Hunt,

"Mr. John Barry having sent the Fox Hounds to a different place to what was ordered ... was sent to Coventry, but return'd upon giving six bottles of Claret to the Hunt."

Then in 1811, the phrase appears in The Dictionary of the Vulgar Tongue showing that it had clearly entered everyday, standard language.

By the mid-20th century, the phrase was very popular as a way to describe someone who wouldn’t join strike action or support a Trade Union led conflict.

This idiom really is quite widespread today, as even Microsoft has got in on the act. It offers “sent to Coventry” as a synonym for “ostracise”, although I’m sure that most people around the world have no idea where this small town in the Midlands of the UK actually is!

Coventry / ‘kəvəntri


Welcome again to our weekly series that hopes to go behind the scenes of some rather typical English expressions.