Skeletons in the closet is a colloquial expression used to imply something embarrassing, illegal or shameful is being hidden away, stashed like corpses in the cupboard.
The idiom has been around in English since the early 19th century, originating from Britain, with one of the earliest citations of the phrase appearing in 1816, in an issue of the monthly magazine The Eclectic Review.
Over the years, the strong imagery of the expression caused “skeletons in the closet” to spread from England all over the Anglosphere, turning it into an idiomatic phrase used by many.
Today, the expression can be found in many forms; in the United States, people predominantly use “skeletons in the closet” while in the United Kingdom, it is mostly uttered as “skeletons in the cupboard”.
The phrase has been featured and referenced in the work of several artists, including Edgar Allan Poe’s “The Black Cat” as well as Eminem’s famous song “Cleanin’ Out My Closet”.
It was first defined on Urban Dictionary in 2009.