“Leave no stone unturned” is a way of saying one is not going to give up searching till they find what they’ve lost or what they need.
The phrase is a common idiom used among English-speakers, as well as around the world in different variants, that suggests that one is going to engage in a thorough search for something they want to find. It is not the easiest of all idioms, but it should be fairly simple to understand when read or heard in context.
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Meaning of “Leave no stone unturned”
“Leave no stone unturned” is a clever idiom that’s used to emphasize how thoroughly someone is going to search for something. In order to find an answer, a piece of information, or something that’s physically been lost, one might say that they are going to “leave no stone unturned” in their search. This means that they are going to exhaust every possible avenue of an investigation until there is nowhere else to search.
When to Use “Leave no stone unturned”
It’s possible to use “leave no stone unturned” in a wide variety of situations. Since it’s quite vague, alluding to the loss and search for just about anything, one can imagine using the idiom at any point. For example, someone might say that they are going to “leave no stone unturned” while they’re searching for an important piece of information for their research. Alternatively, and somewhat less seriously, someone might use the phrase when speaking about their search for a perfect piece of clothing, jewelry, gift, piece of furniture, or anything else one might think of. As these examples demonstrate, it’s possible to use the phrase in a more or less serious manner.
- I can’t stop looking, I’m going to leave no stone unturned until I find it.
- She told me she’s leaving no stone unturned in her search for her family records.
- My dad left no stone unturned until he found out what I’d been doing on the weekends.
- I hope that you’re willing to leave no stone unturned in your search because that’s what it’s going to take to be successful.
- I genuinely did everything I could. I left no stone unturned and now there’s nowhere else to look.
Why Do Writers Use When to Use “Leave no stone unturned?”
Writers use “leave no stone unturned” for the same reasons and in the same way that one might use it in everyday conversation. Idioms are shared among those who speak the same language (and those who don’t) as well as those who grew up in the same cultural community. Writers are able to tap into those connections in order to make a character feel more realistic. For instance, if a writer is creating a character from a specific region of the United States, it will be helpful to learn how people from that area talk, what kind of idioms and aphorism they use, etc. Then, any dialogue the writer creates will hopefully feel more realistic.
Origins of “Leave no stone unturned”
“Leave no stone unturned” is believed to have originated from a Greek legend. It refers to a general who buried his treasure after being defeated in battle. The treasure’s location was lost to time and when searchers went to seek it out, the Oracle of Delphi only gave them one piece of advice—look under every stone. The following excerpt comes from John Bartlett’s Familiar quotations: being an attempt to trace their source. When seeking out and writing about the source of “leave no stone unturned” he wrote that it:
may be traced to a response of the Delphic Oracle, given to Polycrates, as the best means of finding a treasure buried by Xerxes’s general, Mardonius, on the field of Plataea. The Oracle replied Πάντα λίθον κίνει, Turn every stone.
In his book, Bartlett also speaks about a related story in which someone named Polycrates, or either Athens or Thebes sought out treasure buried by Mardonius, a general serving under Xerxes’s I. He was killed at the battle of Plataea and was rumored to have hidden his treasure under his tent. When Polycrates couldn’t find it, he consulted the Delphic Oracle and received the same reply.
The modern form of the phrase, “leave no stone unturned,” came into public use in the mid-1500s. It can be found in “A manifest detection of the moste vyle and detestable vse of Diceplay, and other practises lyke the same, a Myrrour very necessary for all yonge Gentilmen & others sodenly enabled by worldly abūdace, to loke in. Newly set forth for their behoufe.” This early Modern English text includes the following line:
that he wil refuse no labor nor leaue no stone vnturned, to pick vp a penny vnderneth.