One of the mysteries of the English language finally explained.
The words written by a bodiless hand on the wall at Belshazzar's feast (as recounted in the biblical Book of Daniel).
Late 17th century (in an earlier sense). From Aramaic mĕnē mĕnē tĕqēl ūp̲arsīn (Daniel 5:25) from mĕnē numbered, mina + tĕqēl weighed, shekel + ū- and + parsīn, plural of pĕrēs divided, Persia, half-mina, half-shekel. The phrase is an elaborate piece of wordplay, relying on the fact that each word can also denote a different coin, and the third word can also be interpreted as ‘Persia’.
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