Writing On The Wall – Meaning, Origin and Usage

Have you ever watched a scary movie and had the gut feeling that something terrible is about to happen? Did you ever not study for a test and start predicting how bad you were going to do when the teacher started handing out the test?

How would you feel if your company announced they are laying off workers and your boss called you into their office?

If you can resonate with any of these feelings, then the phrase “writing on the wall” might be a great way to describe it.

This page will show the meaning of writing on the wall, provide its origin, and give phrases both like and opposite of it.


The phrase writing on the wall is expressing that something terrible may happen soon. Writing on the wall often is used to describe a prediction of a negative event at some point in the future. When fates show that something is set to go wrong, the phrase writing on the wall captures that feeling.

It may be like a feeling of anxiety if felt by oneself, or a feeling of fear or pity if thought of for another. In all situations using the phrase, some prediction or forecast of a future feeling should be in place.

Despite its specificity, writing on the wall can be a commonplace term. It can be as simple as describing an intrusive negative thought regarding the future. Writing on the wall is often paired with a sense of intuition and inference made because of the circumstance.

Example Usage

“With all the signs pointing to failure, it’s a wonder she didn’t see the writing on the wall”.

“Once she failed her last test, the writing was on the wall regarding her graduation”.

“The writing is on the wall for that relationship with all that fighting”.

“His cancer prognosis is more a writing on the wall than anything else”.


The origin of writing on the wall is Biblical, relating to the story of King Belshazzar’s feast and the writing hand. Daniel Chapter 5 of the Bible tells the tale of an event. As King Belshazzar is having a feast at his palace, a floating hand appears and writes on the walls of the palace. Despite no one at the feast knowing what the writing meant, the king called in Daniel who was able to decipher. Daniel told the king that the writings predicted the downturn of the Babylonian Empire. King Belshazzar died later that night when Persians attacked Babylonia.

Since this time and its use in the Bible, the phrase writing on the wall has been made use of. Like the predictions made by the handwriting on the wall in the story, writing on the wall has long been used to describe the forecast of negative and catastrophic events.

Phrases Similar to Writing on The Wall

  • Red flag
  • Fair warning
  • Tip-off
  • Twist of fate
  • Impending doom

Phrases Opposite to Writing on The Wall

  • Up in the air
  • Hit-or-miss
  • Bright future
  • Happy ending
  • Success story

What is The Correct Saying?

  • Writing on the wall
  • Handwriting on the wall
  • The writing is on the wall

Ways People May Incorrectly Say Writing on The Wall

One should remember when using writing on the wall that it carries a negative connotation with it. You would not want to say writing on the wall in predicting positive and happy outcomes. Improper uses are:

  • The indigestion served as the writing on the wall regarding the child’s gender.
  • Once she aced all her exams, it was nothing but the writing on the wall for everyone who came after her.

Acceptable Ways to Phrase Writing on The Wall

  • The company noticed the writing on the wall, that’s the only reason they changes their payment policies.
  • The coach saw the writing on the wall and changed his strategy before they lost the season.
  • Poor gains in the gym is the writing on the wall as far as reaching your goals go.

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