What Does Carry Coals to Newcastle Mean?

To Carry Coals to Newcastle Meaning

Definition: To do something pointless or redundant, especially when the action would contribute to an existing surplus.

This idiom is used to express the doing, giving, or transporting of something that is redundant because there is already an overabundance of that item. For example, carrying water to the sea or sand to the beach is equivalent to carrying coals to Newcastle.

Most commonly, the idiom is used in the context of buying gifts or transporting material items. It may also be used to describe any activity that is deemed unnecessary or redundant.

Origin of Carry Coals to Newcastle

carrying coals to newcastleThe origin of this idiom can be traced back to Newcastle in England. At one time, Newcastle was England’s biggest producer of coal. There would be no point in carrying coal to Newcastle because the city had more than enough coal and did not need any more.

The first recorded use of carry coals to Newcastle dates back to 1661. It first appeared in The History of the Worthies of England by Thomas Fuller. A slight variation of the idiom appeared in Thomas Heywood’s 1606 play, “If You Know Not Me, You Know Nobody.”

Examples of Carry Coals to Newcastle

meaning of coals to newcastleThe idiom is most commonly used to express that doing something would be pointless because there is already enough of whatever that action would produce.

An example conversation between Cathy and her mom about her little brother’s birthday present illustrates the correct use of this idiom.

Cathy: I want to get Timmy a new action figure for his birthday. What do you think?

Mom: That’s like carrying coals to Newcastle. He’s already got 30 action figures with which he barely plays. He doesn’t need any more.

More Examples

  • Bringing a ship from the kingdom’s most remote inhabited island to an old shipbuilding center was one oblique way to carry coals to Newcastle. –LA Times
  • Prison pictures are bad at best, so familiar have they become, and we regard as a singularly wasteful business practice that of chartering a gilded barge to carry coals to Newcastle. –NY Times

Summary

The English idiom carrying coals to Newcastle means to do something pointless, especially when the activity will contribute to an existing overabundance.