Idiom: As black as Newgate's knocker


Could I suppose “Newgate’s knocker” in “As black as Newgate’s knocker” is or was very black? Is this idiom still in circulation, say, in UK?

Thank you!


I’ve never heard it in my life, although of course I understand it. I’d just have no idea what Newgate’s knocker is supposed to be.

An explanation of the term is here:

Hi Haihao,

It’s the first time I hear this idiom, but it makes sense. A ‘knocker’ is a knock-out punch or a woman’s breast (usually big enough to knock you out). Newgate could be anybody (Smith, O’Sullivan’s nephew, David when he fought Goliath), and his punch probably causes black eyes.

I thought I’d also heard the expression in baseball before, and here’s what I found.

Now, see, I would have assumed it was the thing on the door that you raise and lower in order to knock. Isn’t there a lot of coal there? Or am I thinking of New Castle? If I’m right about the coal, then their hands would be quite dark from handling the coal, so the things that were handled would be black too. Is that even remotely possible?

ROTFL :lol:

Exactly the same sort of confusion hit me, Barb! I knew there was some sort of idiom with “New” and “coal”, but initially couldn’t come up with “Newcastle”.

At any rate, I’m not familiar with the “Newgate” idiom either, but Ms Google did find this for me:

That’s amazing! Knock on wood, there’s doorbells these days :stuck_out_tongue:

Funny you should mention that, Ralf. We don’t have a knocker or a doorbell. So, people literally have to knock directly on the door. That can sometimes be tough to hear, though. Fortunately, we have installed something even better than a knocker or a doorbell for alerting us that there are visitors at the door. It’s known as a “dog”. :mrgreen:

Okay, well at least I had the right type of knocker and knew it wasn’t a woman’s boob!

I have found several models of “dog” to be an effective visitor detection device.

I like New Castle Brown Ale. DOes that count for anything?

It does indeed. It can raise the hair on a dog :smiley:

“As black as Newgate’s knocker” can still sometimes be heard in the UK; though mostly from people in their 70s or over, from the London area. Sometimes it’s transformed into something like “Noogie’s knocker”; it tends to turn up in a Cockney or East London accent.

I would say (tentatively) that “as black as N’s k.” can have implications of grimness; while its more popular rival “as black as the Ace of Spades” tends to refer only to colour.

A “Newgate knocker” was also a kind of lovelock, popular among street traders, etc. in the 19th century.


I did some googling for the knocker phrase and got 206 hits. The Phrase Finder provides us with quite a few as black as… phrases, but the most common ‘as black as coal’ simile is not among them.

Hi Amy,

I’m a big Martin Scorsese fan, and I recently watched his fameless/nonfamous debut Who’s that knocking at my Door. Ever seen it?

Thank you all!

Just a few more I would appreciate it if you could shed some light on:

  1. As black as thunder. Is it because the sky becomes dark or black when a thunder is produced?
  2. As black as your hat. What kind of hat? A cowboy’s?

Thank you!


Hi Haihao

I imagine that probably has something to do with it.

That’s another expression I’m not familiar with. Somehow I seriously doubt there is a connection with a cowboy hat. It would seem more likely to be a reference to a top hat: … rch+Images

Thank you Amy again, indeed.

One more ‘as…as’: As bright as a button.

Should I suggest a button is always touched so kept its brightness?

Thank you!


Hi Haihao

That’s another one I don’t know. I’ve heard “(as) cute as a button”, however.

You sometimes hear “as bright as a button” in the UK; though often with a punning sense of “bright = intelligent”.

I wonder whether it refers to metal buttons, such as you find on e.g. military garments.


Just a few more I have no idea about the origin of:

#1 As busy as a one legged arse kicker (the kicker would fall down if he tried to do so in his condition)
#2 As camp as a row of tents (it suggests ordinary or boring but why?)
#3 As broad as it is long (so it’s square?)
#4 As brown as a berry (berry is more black than brown)

Thank you!

Hello Haihao,

“Brown” in OE (brun) meant “dark and shining”, like many kinds of berry; the specific range of colour is a later development.

In #3, yes, I would say so (“square”): “it has two equal dimensions”, i.e. “there are two equal ways of looking at it”.

In #2, “camp” (of a man) means “(engagingly) effeminate”. It is a mock-simile: a “camp” is a collection of tents; therefore if you are as “camp as a row of tents”, you are exceedingly effeminate (in an engaging way).

I haven’t heard #1 before, but I like your interpretation.

All the best,