- a black or dark-brown combustible mineral substance consisting of carbonized vegetable matter, used as a fuel.Compare anthracite, bituminous coal, lignite.
- a piece of glowing, charred, or burned wood or other combustible substance.
- charcoal(def 1).
verb (used with object)
- to burn to coal or charcoal.
- to provide with coal.
verb (used without object)
- to take in coal for fuel.
- heap coals of fire on someone’s head, to repay evil with good in order to make one’s enemy repent.
- rake/haul/drag/call/take over the coals, to reprimand; scold: They were raked over the coals for turning out slipshod work.
- one or more lumps of coal
- short for charcoal
- coals to Newcastle something supplied where it is already plentiful
- haul someone over the coals to reprimand someone
- to take in, provide with, or turn into coal
Old English col “charcoal, live coal,” from Proto-Germanic *kula(n) (cf. Old Frisian kole, Middle Dutch cole, Dutch kool, Old High German chol, German Kohle, Old Norse kol), from PIE root *g(e)u-lo- “live coal” (cf. Irish gual “coal”).
Meaning “mineral consisting of fossilized carbon” is from mid-13c. First mentioned (370 B.C.E.) by Theophrastus in his treatise “On Stones” under the name lithos anthrakos (see anthrax). Traditionally good luck, coal was given as a New Year’s gift in England, said to guarantee a warm hearth for the coming year. The phrase drag (or rake) over the coals was a reference to the treatment meted out to heretics by Christians. To carry coals “do dirty work,” also “submit to insult” is from 1520s. To carry coals to Newcastle (c.1600) Anglicizes Greek glauk eis Athenas “owls to Athens.”
- A dark-brown to black solid substance formed from the compaction and hardening of fossilized plant parts in the presence of water and in the absence of air. Carbonaceous material accounts for more than 50 percent of coal’s weight and more than 70 percent of its volume. Coal is widely used as a fuel, and its combustion products are used as raw material for a variety of products including cement, asphalt, wallboard and plastics. See more at anthracite bituminous coal lignite.
Also, haul over the coals. Reprimand severely, as in When Dad finds out about the damage to the car, he’s sure to rake Peter over the coals, or The coach hauled him over the coals for missing practice. These terms allude to the medieval torture of pulling a heretic over red-hot coals. [Early 1800s]
see carry coals to Newcastle; rake over the coals.