The term ‘cliffhanger’ to mean a plot device involving a main character in a precarious dilemma is thought to have come into popular use from the end-of-episode situation in adventure silent films of the early 1900s, where the protagonist was often literally left hanging from the edge of a cliff.

It may have originated with Thomas Hardy’s serial novel A Pair Of Blue Eyes in 1873. At the time newspapers published novels in a serial format with one chapter appearing every month. To ensure continued interest in the story, at one point Hardy chose to leave one of the main protagonists, Henry Knight, hanging off a cliff staring into the stony eyes of a trilobite embedded in the rock. This became the archetypal cliff-hanger of Victorian prose.


Filed under Idioms & Their Origins

6 responses to “Cliffhanger

  1. sarahjaneprosetry

    That one I actually know. What about naked as a jay bird. Do you know where that comes from?

  2. Edward, this was a revelation for me, since I always thought the term came from the serials of the 1930s, which HAD cliffhangers to get you back to the theater the next week. Had no idea it went back that far. I love to learn something every day, so thanks for this! Your new friend, Amy Barlow Liberatore (Sharp Little Pencil)

  3. Wow, I never knew this! Super cool fact, I could have never guessed (even with the word being a mix between cliff and hanger…hahaha.) Cool blog. And thanks for checking out mine!

  4. Pingback: Don’t Bite the Messenger Review « wickedcoolflight

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