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I know that "on the wall" expresses the likelihood of something happening, however, what do these mean?

^ This has nothing to do with the following sentences; I got confused. See the answer below.


kamelot song

liar, liar on the wall

question on puzzling.SE

teacher, teacher on the wall

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  • @choster : Thanks for clearing that out. I have added the link to the "teacher on the wall". Is it enough now?
    – user22237
    Aug 13, 2015 at 16:46
  • Ah yes. As teacher on the wall there is nothing to remark on, but teacher, teacher on the wall is a cultural reference.
    – choster
    Aug 13, 2015 at 16:48
  • @choster: what does it refer to?
    – user22237
    Aug 13, 2015 at 16:51
  • @choster True that poetry and music lyrics often don't follow normal grammar and so discussions of their grammar can be unproductive, in this case the question is really about literary allusions, and I think a literary allusion in a song has no relevant difference from one in prose.
    – Jay
    Aug 13, 2015 at 17:43
  • @Jay After the edit, yes. Before the edit, it was quite unclear.
    – choster
    Aug 13, 2015 at 18:33

1 Answer 1

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I think you are getting confused by two allusions that happen to share the words "on the wall", but which have nothing to do with each other.

"The handwriting on the wall" is a reference to the book of Daniel in the Bible. According to this book, the imminent doom of the city of Babylon was predicted by handwriting that miraculously appeared on the wall during a drunken party, and which the prophet Daniel then interpreted to mean that Babylon would soon fall. (Some commentators say that the handwriting was not miraculous in any way but was simply ordinary graffiti, to which the king and Daniel attached prophetic significance. But whatever, not here to debate theological questions, just to explain the reference.)

Note that the reference is unlikely to be recognized without mentioning the handwriting. It's not just something on the wall, it's the handwriting on the wall. And it's not really a discussion of probability -- maybe you were just struggling for words there -- but a warning of impending disaster. No one uses this phrase to refer to something good, but only to something bad. And it is normally understood to mean not a probability but a certainty.

"Liar, liar on the wall" and "teacher, teacher on the wall" are references to the fairy tell of Snow White. In the fairy tale, the evil queen has a magic mirror. She regularly asks this mirror, "Mirror, mirror on the wall, who's the fairest one of all?" "Fairest" here meaning "prettiest". As long as the mirror assures here that she is the prettiest woman in the kingdom, she is satisfied. But when the mirror tells her that Snow White is prettier than she is, she becomes furiously jealous and orders Snow White to be killed.

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  • This is an excellent answer! I was looking for the second meaning. Thanks for making it clear to me!
    – user22237
    Aug 13, 2015 at 18:04

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