Doom and Gloom

Previous Page

Doom and Gloom : Phrases


A feeling of pessimism and despondency, often with regard to business or political pospects.



The phrase 'doom and gloom', which is also seen in its variant for 'gloom and doom', sounds as though it might be quite old - Shakespeare or the Bible perhaps? Strange to say, but it isn't remotely old enough to be either. Shakespeare did take the word 'gloom' and coin the adjective 'gloomy', but he didn't associate 'doom' with either of them. Neither of the words 'doom' or 'gloom' appear, singly, let alone together, in the King James Version of the Bible.

It is a late 19th century phrase and it began to be used in US newspapers in the early 20th century - for example, this piece from The New York Times Magazine, January 1939:

"Is the situation, after all, as bad as the prophets of gloom and doom would have us believe?"

The expression's use was initially limited to finance and politics and wasn't commonplace in the wider language until it became popularised via the 1947 stage show Finian's Rainbow. Harburg and Saidy's musical was a great popular success and was turned into a film in 1968. The character Og, a pessimistic leprechaun, repeatedly used the rhyming phrase thus:

"Doom and gloom... D-o-o-m and gl-o-o-m... I told you that gold could only bring you doom and gloom, gloom and doom."

The phrase was began to be used by US political commentators in the 1950s, possibly due to the success of Finian's Rainbow. By the 1970s and 80s, also possibly influenced by the success of Finian's Rainbow, this time of the 1968 film, it was it was used in reference to pessimistic forecasts about the economy, nuclear disarmament and later the environment.

The BBC had a hand in spreading the use of the the word 'doom' and hence 'doom and gloom' in the UK. In 1970 they broadcast an influential science fiction television series called Doomwatch, which highlighted various potential doom-laden threats to civilisation. Between 1968 and 1977 (and seemingly forever since via interminable repeats) they also broadcast the popular comedy Dad's Army, in which the lugubrious Private Frazier, played by the Scottish character actor John Laurie, would shout out "We're doomed, I tell ye!" in virtually every episode.

Phrases Index

From Doom and Gloom to HOME PAGE