When referring to ministers sometimes people say, “man of the cloth.” What’s the origin of this phrase and what does it mean?
According to Morris Dictionary of Word and Phrase Origins by William and Mary Morris:
“A man of the cloth” was originally a term applied to anyone who wore a uniform in his work. A baker’s white jacket and trousers would be called “the baker’s cloth.” But by the seventeenth century, “man of the cloth” came to be restricted to the clergy.”
According to Wise Geek, the origin of “men of the cloth,” was not specific to the clergy. Anyone who wore a uniform while working were men of the cloth through the 16th century. Special clothing worn only for a job meant a worker was a man of the cloth and bore no special reference to clergymen.
In the 17th century, the term “men of the cloth” applied exclusively to members of the clergy. No longer was a servant or a page with a uniform was a man of the cloth.
Since so many women are clergy these day, it is also quite appropriate to say, “woman of the cloth.”
READ origin of other Phrases, Expressions and Sayings.