Drive Someone up the Wall (Origin)

by Craig Shrives

What Is the Origin of the Saying "Drive Someone up the Wall"?

The term "drive someone up the wall" means to annoy somebody a lot.
Drive Someone up the Wall (Origin)

Examples of Use:

  • Keep the noise down! You're driving me up the wall.
  • That house alarm is driving me up the wall!
  • I can't thread this needle. It is driving me up the wall.
  • You have been driving me up the wall all morning. Give me a minute's peace.
In this idiom, the word "wall" is a metaphor for a barrier preventing an escape from an annoyance. The annoyance is so bad, it drives the person to claw their way up the wall to get away.

The notion of a metaphorical wall preventing an escape from a situation dates back to at least the 16th century. The following quotation is from King Henry VII's Chancellor of England Sir Thomas More:
  • "I am in this matter euen at the harde walle, and se not how to go further.
The full saying "drive [someone] up the wall" has been used since the early 20th century, but it has only been in common usage since the 1960s (evidence).

Competing Theory

This saying comes from the image of an addict deprived of drugs literally trying to climb the wall of their cell in desperation. Supporters of this theory note that the term came to prominence in the 1960s, when drug use was rife.

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See Also

What are idioms? What is figurative language? A list of common grammar errors A list of easily confused words A list of sayings and proverbs

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