Rest on your laurels means that someone is so satisfied with what has already achieved that has no intention to make any further efforts.
In ancient Greece, crowns of laurel leaves were gifted to athletic champions as a symbol of victory and status.
In the 14th century, the word ‘laureate’ was coined with the meaning “crowned with laurels”.
English author, Geoffrey Chaucer uses the phrase “laureate poete” in the Canterbury Tales (1392) and in 1668 the position of Poet Laureate was established and still an existing honor.
In the 18th century the expression “to rest on one’s laurels’ meant that the honored person earned that much, they deserved to rest. However, in the 19th century, the term received a more critical connotation.
In 1825 The Literary Chronicle praises the work of Irish author Maria Edgeworth writing: “We do not affect to wish she should repose on her laurels and rest satisfied; on the contrary, we believe that genius is inexhaustible…For Miss Edgeworth there must be no rest on this side of the grave.”
The has been frequently used in sports, politics and business news since the 20th century.
“Minister Freeland clings to S&P’s triple-A credit rating as proof of her prudence, but does she really want to rest on laurels earned by previous governments that actually did slay deficits?” (Franco Terrazzano, Financial Post, July 7, 2022)
- Historyextra.com – Why do we say ‘resting on your laurels’?