black book


black book,
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

Example Sentences

  1. Ann will not invite Bob to the party because he has been in her black books for so long.
  2. I know I will be in my boss’s black books if I speak against him.
  3. It would be best to keep your black book small and try to be more friendly with others.
  4. I whipped out my black books, and I started working with the team.
  5. 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.”

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