I have heard the phrase 'down the memory hole' used before, and I believe it to have originated in the novel 1984 by George Orwell, but I'm not 100% sure the definition I've found is right:

memory hole noun a piece of one's memory that seems to be missing; also, a place where lost memories seem to go

Word Origin modeled upon black hole

memory hole. Dictionary.com. Dictionary.com's 21st Century Lexicon. Dictionary.com, LLC. http://www.dictionary.com/browse/memory-hole (accessed: April 21, 2016).

My understanding was that the phrase refers to something deleted or removed because something about it was likely to cause embarrassment or lost reputation to a person, or to persons, related to it.

Like if there was a book, or a photograph, or even a post on here, which was completely erased, because some people didn't want to be associated with it in some way...

My feeling is this rendering could use some tuning, though, so I was wondering if anyone could provide a more authoritative definition.

Reference Pic of 1984


The protagonist of 1984, Winston, works in the Ministry of Truth, which is responsible for editing all documentation that conflics with the current positions and declarations of the state. Winston's workplace is described as follows:

In the walls of the cubicle there were three orifices. To the right of the speakwrite, a small pneumatic tube for written messages, to the left, a larger one for newspapers; and in the side wall, within easy reach of Winston’s arm, a large oblong slit protected by a wire grating. This last was for the disposal of waste paper. Similar slits existed in thousands or tens of thousands throughout the building, not only in every room but at short intervals in every corridor. For some reason they were nicknamed memory holes.

All conflicting evidence goes down the memory hole, as does any paper evidence of Winston's work to rewrite the past. So the memory hole is the place that all evidence of contradiction goes to be destroyed. In 1984, it's evidence that the state finds inconvenient. As a metaphor, it's anything that a person finds distasteful enough to wish eradicated.


The original idea was of a place where unwanted or undesirable evidence was hidden and destroyed with the intent of manipulating the course of history. By extension it is used to refer to a place where things are lost and forgotten forever:

A memory hole:

  • is any mechanism for the alteration or disappearance of inconvenient or embarrassing documents, photographs, transcripts, or other records, such as from a website or other archive, particularly as part of an attempt to give the impression that something never happened.

  • The concept was first popularized by George Orwell's dystopian novel Nineteen Eighty-Four, where the Party's Ministry of Truth systematically re-created all potential historical documents, in effect, re-writing all of history to match the often-changing state propaganda. These changes were complete and undetectable.


  • Can someone go looking into the memory hole for something? I mean if something tossed into the memory hole can be recovered. – vickyace Apr 28 '16 at 10:00
  • I see your point, but as explained by OP the expression comes from "black hole" and the idea is not something that preserves but something that destroys. – user66974 Apr 28 '16 at 10:04

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