[ExI] Is tobacco really harmful?

BillK pharos at gmail.com
Mon Nov 23 07:52:10 UTC 2009

On 11/23/09, spike wrote:
>  Do you have a reference to Dickens characters calling cigs coffin nails?
>  Can't find anything on google.

In 'A Christmas Carol' (1843) Dickens wrote:
Old Marley was as dead as a door-nail.

Mind! I don't mean to say that I know, of my own knowledge, what
there is particularly dead about a door-nail. I might have been
inclined, myself, to regard a coffin-nail as the deadest piece of
ironmongery in the trade.

But he wasn't talking about cigarettes.
'coffin nails' (or coffin tacks in USA) referring to cigarettes seems
to date from the 1880s according to reference dictionaries. The phrase
was also used for alcoholic drinks, or anything that shortened your
life expectancy.

Coffin nail
Since about 1890 people have recognized that cigarette smoking does
indeed damage one's health for even then they said that each cigarette
a person smoked drove another nail in his coffin. That led to a
cigarette being called ( in slang ) a coffin nail. "I stopped
smoking," Hank said. "I haven't had a coffin nail in three months."

The 'idea' of the phrase is much, much older.
i.e. the last nail in the coffin is equivalent to the straw that
breaks the camel's back and that at least goes back to Biblical times.

Just to confuse you, there is also 'dead as a doornail'
This is an ancient expression: we have a reference to this dating back
to 1350, and it also appears in the fourteenth-century work The Vision
of Piers Plowman and in Shakespeare’s Henry IV.


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