ivory tower

Victoria Neufeldt vneufeldt at M-W.COM
Wed Aug 18 00:07:04 UTC 1999

I have wondered about this myself.  A wild guess would be that it's just a
ref to something otherwordly and/or romantic, as conjuring up the storied
Orient in the old sense, where ivory and sandalwood and such came from.  A
tower of ivory would actually be pretty impractical and not at all strong,
so the original image cannot have been of a fortress against the real world.
But I would love to hear the real story and am waiting in breathless


Victoria Neufeldt, Merriam-Webster, Inc.
47 Federal Street, P.O. Box 281
Springfield, MA  01102
Tel. (413) 734-3134 ext 124
Fax  (413) 827-7262

> -----Original Message-----
> From: American Dialect Society [mailto:ADS-L at LISTSERV.UGA.EDU]On Behalf
> Of AAllan at AOL.COM
> Sent: Tuesday, August 17, 1999 5:53 PM
> Subject: ivory tower
> Has this been discussed before? I got an inquiry about "ivory
> tower" and find
> the explanations unsatisfying. The dictionaries cite a French
> source without
> explaining why it should be ivory. Charles Earle Funk, in
> "Heavens to Betsy,"
> gives the exact source in French and English but still does not
> say why it's
> ivory.
> Funk: "When Charles-Augustin Sainte-Beuve, French literary critic of the
> early nineteenth century, coined this term he thought of it as
> applicable to
> the aerie of a poet, a place where he could retire from the
> world, a retreat.
> The term occurs in his own poem, Pensees d' Aout, written in
> October, 1837. .
> . ."
> But why ivory?
> - Allan Metcalf

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