George Stimpson

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What does send to Coventry mean?

To send a person to Coventry means to boycott him socially by having nothing to do with him. When we refuse to associate or to have intercourse with a person we are said to send him to Coventry. "I seem to be the person marked for displeasure, and was almost literally sent to Coventry," wrote David Garrick (1717-1779). "This again," wrote Frances Burney (1752-1840) in her diary, "sent me to Coventry for the rest of the dinner." The phrase is of uncertain origin. It is generally supposed that it was originally linked in some way with [page 25] Coventry, a town in Shakespeare's home shire of Warwick, and that it originated during the English civil war in the seventeenth century. There are two theories as to its origin. According to one, it was suggested by the fact that Royalist prisoners were held incommunicado at Coventry. In his History of the Rebellion (1647) Edward Hyde Clarendon says Coventry was a Cromwellian stronghold during the civil war and that the Parliamentarians of Birmingham sent some Royalists they had captured to Coventry for safekeeping. According to the other theory, the inhabitants of Coventry in those days so disliked the military that a woman seen speaking to a soldier was immediately ostracized, and accordingly when a soldier was sent to join the garrison at Coventry he was isolated from all home life and feminine society. Some writers go so far as to say that Coventry was regarded in the English army as such an undesirable station that refractory soldiers were sent there for discipline. But these theories of the origin of "send to Coventry" are only surmises unsupported by etymological evidence.