also, in someone’s black books
- a book containing a list of secret contacts
- a record of who is out of favour with someone
- a list of past romantic partners or close contacts
- someone’s imaginary book, containing the names of people liable to be punished
- generally, it just means a list of people that are currently disliked by the holder of said list
- be in someone’s black books means to be in someone’s disfavour or trouble with someone
- Ann will not invite Bob to the party because he has been in her black books for so long.
- I know I will be in my boss’s black books if I speak against him.
- It would be best to keep your black book small and try to be more friendly with others.
- I whipped out my black books, and I started working with the team.
- Even in modern education, a black book is kept for registration purposes: for people liable to be censured or punished still, but a registration of sorts nonetheless.
The phrase first came into existence in the mid-1400s, and at that time, it alludes to a list of people who committed crimes.
Black books in English history began being used by the agents of King Henry VIII in the 1530s. It was a literal black book used as a way to keep track of people to be “punished” by the crown for being sinful in their ways. (rumours say because Henry VIII wanted to expand into their lands!)
A black book can also be considered a “blacklist” as is often spoken of in the entertainment or influence departments of a given business; for example, a food critic has the power to add someone to the restaurant business’s blacklist. The longer a blacklist or, the bigger a black book, the more influential a critic can become, and the more important it is to please them appropriately.
The term was recorded and defined in Terrae Filius: Or, The Secret History of the University of Oxford, by R. Newton Nicholas Amhurst (1726).
“The black book is a register of the university, kept by the proctor, in which he records any person who affronts him, or the university; and no person, who is so recorded, can proceed to his degree.”