chickens come home to roost

Benjamin Zimmer bgzimmer at BABEL.LING.UPENN.EDU
Thu Feb 2 15:48:42 UTC 2006

James A. Landau wrote:
>My recollection is that the phrase "the chickens coming home to roost"
>was invented (or more likely popularized) in a controversial statement
>by a well-known/notorious black activist circa 1970.  I suppose I'll
>have to wait for Fred Shapiro's new book to check it out.  I can't
>remember who the activist was, but it may have been one H. Rap Brown,
>the eponymous founder of rap music.

David Barnhart wrote:
> I found "chickens come home to roost" in as early as
> Aug. 16, 1843 in the Loraine Republican.

Be that as it may, I believe the famous usage to which James referred
was Malcolm X's reaction to JFK's assassination. The incident was
featured prominently in both the autobiography and Spike Lee's movie.
The exact line was, "He never foresaw that the chickens would come
home to roost so soon," said after a speech on Dec. 4, 1963. Elijah
Muhammad "silenced" Malcolm for 90 days after the incident, and
Malcolm cut off ties with NOI soon thereafter.


--Ben Zimmer

The American Dialect Society -

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