vale » veil

Chiefly in:   veil of tears

Classification: English – idiom-related

Spotted in the wild:

  • Last week, one of those hero-friends, World War II Marine air ace Joe Foss, departed this veil of tears to be with his Maker. (Oliver North,, Jan. 9, 2003)
  • “In the same way we are given the Blessed Mother to guide us through this veil of tears,” he said. (Madison Catholic Herald, Oct. 9, 2003)
  • So I have great pleasure in wishing Medicare happy 20th, and in confidently looking forward to the nearest thing to eternal life that is possible here in this veil of tears. (Department of Health and Ageing, Australia, Feb. 2, 2004)
  • In 2002, as the ailing and aged former Senator from South Carolina Strom Thurmond was facing retirement, his 100th birthday and, in all likelihood his departure from this veil of tears, C. Trent Lott praised him at a celebration of his life. (Enter Stage Right, Nov. 8, 2004)

Analyzed or reported by:

Brians explains:

The expression “vale of tears” goes back to pious sentiments that consider life on earth to be a series of sorrows to be left behind when we go on to a better world in Heaven. It conjures up an image of a suffering traveler laboring through a valley (”vale” ) of troubles and sorrow. “Veil of tears” is poetic sounding, but it’s a mistake.

| link | entered by Ben Zimmer, 2005/07/22 |


  1. 1

    Commentary by Mark A. Mandel , 2005/08/12 at 3:28 pm

    Also contributing is the rarity and obsolescence of “vale”.

  2. 2

    Commentary by David Tuggy , 2005/12/06 at 12:45 pm

    This one is also interesting in that many usages can be well construed as evoking a “curtain of sadness” kind of imagery. If life is passing through the “vale”, OK, but death itself may be thought of as passing through the veil or curtain. Some usages speak of seeing through a/this veil of tears, or of wondering what lies beyond this veil of tears (i.e. beyond this life, which is a vale of tears, or beyond death, which veils (with tears) the afterlife from us.

    In the King James version (and others) of the Bible repeated reference is made to the veil of the temple, and to Jesus as having, by his death, gone through the “veil” into the Holy of Holies. That probably has affected the usage, along with the obsolescence of “vale”.

  3. 3

    Commentary by Bard , 2006/11/07 at 3:25 pm

    David Tuggy, are you a Harry Potter fan, by chance? (I mean, the veil imagery goes back to the first Roman forays into England, at the latest, but the way you said “veil or curtain” made me suspicious.)

  4. 4

    Commentary by Arnold Zwicky , 2006/11/16 at 9:32 pm

    Also treated in Garner’s Modern American Usage, under “vale of tears”. Garner notes (p. 811): “Because vale has so commonly been confounded with veil, some writers have begun using the latter noun as if it referred to a stream of tears covering the face (a watery veil)” (with examples).

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