I was reading The Painted Veil by W. Somerset Maugham and I came across the line, ‘Someone is walking over my grave,’ a response by a character feeling a sudden shudder. I had used, what I presumed to be a common idiom often; but I had never actually thought about what it meant. For some reason the saying irked me, scratched at my skull. This I declared called for an investigation.
Thanks to the wonders of the Interverse I discovered that the saying was first coined under Jonathan Swifts pseudonym Simon Wagstaff, in A Complete Collection of Ingenious Conversation, 1978,
“Miss [shuddering]. Lord! there’s somebody walking over my Grave.”
It also stems from a folk belief/wive’s tale, recorded in Basil Godfrey’s Caprice by Lee Holme, 1868,
“Joan shuddered – that irrepressible convulsive shudder which old wives say is caused by a footstep walking over the place of our grave that shall be.”
Link to full text here
The saying derives from a time when the distinction between life and death was ambiguously murky; also grave sites were for the most part pre-determined so the idea of someone walking across your future resting place made sense.
In American versions, the human footstep is substituted with a Goose, hence the term ‘goosebumps.’
I am often possessed by sudden shudders, I get them multiple times per day. Either someone is being a twit and walking over my grave multiple times to be an asshole, I think it could be the love of my life OR I have multiple grave sites because I am going to be chopped into tiny bits by New Zealand’s first serial killer and be spread across this antipodean land OR I am going to get my wish and be scattered to the wind and wind up flying back into my nearest and dearest’s mouths. Thats right, bite me future loved ones
and now to leave you with some grave words from Criswell…