Understanding the Idiom: "under a cloud" - Meaning, Origins, and Usage

Idiom language: English
Etymology: (This etymology is missing or incomplete. Please add to it, or discuss it at the Etymology scriptorium.)

The idiom “under a cloud” is commonly used in English to describe someone or something that is experiencing a period of difficulty, uncertainty, or suspicion. This phrase can be applied to various situations, such as when an individual is facing legal trouble, when a company’s reputation has been tarnished by scandal, or when an idea or proposal is met with skepticism.

Origins and Usage

The origins of this idiom are unclear, but it has been in use for several centuries. It was first recorded in the 17th century and has since become a popular expression in both spoken and written English. The phrase can be used to describe individuals, groups, companies, ideas, proposals or anything else that may be perceived as being under scrutiny or suspicion.

Examples of Usage

This idiom can be used in various contexts. For example:

  • “After the allegations were made against him, he was under a cloud of suspicion.”
  • “The company’s stock price fell sharply after news broke about their involvement in the scandal; they are now under a cloud.”
  • “The new proposal for the project was met with skepticism from many members of the team; it remains under a cloud.”

In each case above, “under a cloud” refers to something that is facing difficulty or uncertainty due to external factors.

Origins and Historical Context of the Idiom “under a cloud”

The idiom “under a cloud” is commonly used to describe someone who is experiencing a period of difficulty or suspicion. The origins of this phrase can be traced back to ancient Greek mythology, where Zeus would often create clouds to hide himself from his wife Hera when he was up to no good.

In English literature, the first recorded use of the phrase dates back to the 17th century. It was used by John Milton in his epic poem “Paradise Lost” to describe Satan’s fall from grace and subsequent banishment from heaven. This usage helped establish the negative connotations associated with being “under a cloud.”

Throughout history, there have been numerous instances where individuals or groups have found themselves under a cloud of suspicion or disapproval. For example, during the Salem witch trials in colonial America, many innocent people were accused of practicing witchcraft and were subsequently put on trial and executed.

In modern times, politicians and public figures are often said to be under a cloud when they are facing allegations of wrongdoing or scandal. This can have serious consequences for their careers and reputations.

Usage and Variations of the Idiom “under a cloud”

The idiom “under a cloud” is commonly used in English to describe someone who is experiencing difficulties or facing suspicion. This phrase can be applied to various situations, such as when someone is accused of wrongdoing, going through a difficult time, or experiencing negative consequences due to their actions.


While the core meaning of the idiom remains consistent across different contexts, there are variations that reflect specific nuances. For example, one might say that someone is “under a dark cloud” if they are facing particularly serious accusations or consequences. Alternatively, one might use the phrase “cloud hanging over” to emphasize that the negative situation has not yet been resolved.


The idiom “under a cloud” can be used in both formal and informal settings. It may appear in news articles reporting on scandals or controversies involving public figures, as well as in everyday conversations among friends and family members discussing personal struggles. Regardless of context, this phrase conveys empathy for those who are going through tough times and acknowledges the challenges they face.

Synonyms, Antonyms, and Cultural Insights for the Idiom “under a cloud”


  • Under suspicion
  • In disfavor
  • Discredited
  • Tarnished reputation
  • Stigmatized
  • Marked by shame or disgrace


  • Clean slate/record/reputation/image
  • Above reproach
  • In good standing
  • Praised/acclaimed/honored
    • One cultural insight worth noting is that this idiom often carries negative connotations and implies wrongdoing or disrepute. In some cultures, being “under a cloud” may be seen as shameful or damaging to one’s social status. However, it’s important to remember that idioms can have varying meanings depending on context and culture.

      Practical Exercises for the Idiom “under a cloud”

      Exercise 1: Write three sentences using “under a cloud” in different contexts. Try to use the idiom in different tenses (past, present, future) and with different subjects (people, organizations, countries).


      – The company has been under a cloud since their CEO was accused of embezzlement.

      – She felt like she was under a cloud after failing her exam.

      – The country’s economy is currently under a cloud due to high unemployment rates.

      Exercise 2: Match the following sentences with their correct meanings:

      1. He’s been under a cloud ever since he lost his job.

      2. The team is playing under a cloud after their star player got injured.

      3. The politician’s reputation is still under a cloud despite being cleared of all charges.

      A. Feeling sad or depressed

      B. Facing negative consequences or scrutiny

      C. Experiencing bad luck or unfortunate circumstances

      Exercise 3: Rewrite each sentence using an alternative expression that conveys similar meaning without using “under a cloud”.

      1. The restaurant has been struggling financially for months.

      2. She couldn’t shake off her feeling of disappointment after not getting promoted.

      3. His reputation never recovered from the scandal.

      We hope these exercises have helped you gain confidence in using the idiom “under a cloud” correctly and effectively!

      Common Mistakes to Avoid When Using the Idiom “under a cloud”

      When using idioms in English, it is important to understand their meaning and usage. The idiom “under a cloud” is often used to describe someone who is facing suspicion or disapproval. However, there are common mistakes that people make when using this idiom.

      Avoiding Literal Interpretation

      The first mistake to avoid when using the idiom “under a cloud” is taking it too literally. This idiom does not refer to an actual cloud in the sky, but rather a metaphorical one that represents negative attention or scrutiny. It’s important to use this expression figuratively and not take it literally.

      Avoiding Overuse

      Another common mistake when using idioms like “under a cloud” is overusing them. While idioms can add color and depth to language, they lose their impact if used too frequently. It’s best to use idioms sparingly and appropriately for maximum effect.

      • Avoiding Stereotypes: Don’t assume that everyone will understand an idiom based on cultural stereotypes or assumptions about language proficiency.
      • Avoiding Insensitivity: Be mindful of how an idiom might be perceived by others, especially if it has negative connotations related to race, gender, or other sensitive topics.
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