chickens come home to roost

Bad deeds or words return to discomfort their perpetrator or, rather more succinctly:

something you’ve done comes back to bite you in the ass. 

The idea of bad deeds coming back to haunt their originator was expressed in print as early as 1390, when Geoffrey Chaucer used it in The Parson’s Tale.

Originally, the allusion was to a bird returning to its nest at nightfall. Chickens didn’t enter the scene until the 1800s, when this phrase was used on the title page of Robert Southey’s poem The Curse of Kehama, 1810: “Curses are like young chicken: they always come home to roost.”

It’s obvious that the expression had become widely known by the middle of the 1800s because it was abbreviated into “home to roost.” James Russell Lowell wrote in 1870, “All our mistakes sooner or later surely come home to roost.”

The notion of an evil deed returning to the person who committed it also exists in other cultures. Buddhists are familiar with the idea that one is punished by one’s bad deeds returning to haunt the perpetrator, not because of them. They call it karma. 

Samuel Taylor Coleridge used the imagery of a bird returning to punish a bad deed in The Rime of the Ancient Mariner, 1798. In the poem the mariner kills an albatross, which was regarded by sailors as an omen of good luck, and is punished by his shipmates by having the bird hung around his neck.

The phrase can be applied to events other than bad deeds or words. The chocolate ice cream I love so much never just passes through; it comes home to roost on my hips.

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