Inveigle, on the carpet, sell someone down the river, take someone for a ride

Created date

October 29th, 2019


“Inveigle” is a word that we don’t often hear today, unless you’ve read classic literature or watched vintage cinema. And even if you don’t know what it means, you can probably sense that it’s not good.

You’re right.

An “inveigler” (who, obviously, “inveigles”) is a person who essentially talks or cons you into doing something that is wrong or immoral. And they do it by blinding you to the immorality of the act.

That’s precisely where the word comes from.

In Old French, the verb “aveugler” meant “to blind somebody.” In time, the term was Anglicized, and now we have “inveigler.”

“He was inveigled by his corrupt colleagues into defrauding the firm.” 

On the carpet

Carpets have long been a sign of wealth, which is precisely the origin of this idiom’s misinterpretation. 

Many believe that to be “on the carpet” was to be in trouble—in the boss’s office, let’s say.

Over a century ago, however, a carpet was a tablecloth; hence the term’s true meaning. To be “on the carpet” was to be on the committee’s table; something was under discussion.

“Although the committee hasn’t yet made a decision, I can assure you that the matter is on the carpet.”

Sell someone down the river

This idiom has a rather sad beginning. Throughout the nineteenth century, the Mississippi River was a prime route for travel and commerce of all kinds, including slavery.

Slaves held farther north along the waterway were frequently sold to deep-Southern plantation holders. If this happened, they would go to their new place of servitude by way of the Mississippi River, where things were typically harder for a fieldworker.

That said, slave owners farther north would threaten their disobedient servants by telling them that they’d “sell them down the river.” 

Well, everyone knew what river that was, and they also knew what it meant: separation from their families, harder work, and brutality even worse than what they’d already experienced.

“When he rubbed his boss the wrong way, his boss sold him down the river and made him take the fall for the department’s failure.”

Take someone for a ride

This phrase comes from the age of gangsters, when mobsters would invite their opponents on a friendly limousine ride, during which they would “discuss business” (we all know how this usually ended).

And therein lay the idiom: “Take someone for a ride.” While this doesn’t generally end in the nefarious manner that it did in the 1920s, the meaning is similar. 

You may not be out to kill a person, but you are intent on taking advantage of him in the worst way.

“A conman may seem sincere, but he’s out for only one thing, and that’s to take you for a ride.”