Subsequent to my question about “within an inch of one’s life” in Vanity Fair magazine, Emily Jane’s article, “Megyn Kelly slams media “Bias against Trump” for criticism of her prime-time special” wraps up with the following line:

She was violently ill the day of the debate, but “would have crawled over a pile of hot coals to make it. . . . No one was going to be sitting in for me, reading my questions.”

Source interview in Vanity fair

The phrase “crawl over a pile of hot coals” conjures me a Japanese idiom, “火中の栗を拾う,“ meaning to dare to pick up a chestnut in the fire for tasting it, and also a Chinese / Japanese idiom, "不入虎穴、不得虎子/虎穴に入らずんば虎児を得ず," meaning "You cannnot capture a tiger's cub, unless you venture to get into their den," thus “Nothing venture, nothing gain.”

Is the phrase, “crawl over a pile of hot coal” here used to mean to the same effect? Is it a popular set of phrase?

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    No, it's not a set phrase. It means she would have done terribly drastic things instead of letting someone else do her interview. It does not mean 'nothing ventured, nothing gained' which means 'you need to try to succeed' which implies nothing about extreme measures to get what you want.
    – Mitch
    May 20, 2016 at 1:05
  • It's not a set phrase, but only by virtue of being rephrased for emphatic effect. The set phrase is 'walk over hot coals'.
    – Spagirl
    May 20, 2016 at 12:38

2 Answers 2


It is not a set phrase. In your example, the sentence is being used as hyperbole (or exaggeration). The writer is trying to convey that Kelley would have done anything in order to make the interview, even something as extreme as crawling over coals.

Although your example does not use a set phrase, there are several other coal-themed idioms in English. These include

  • to rake someone over the coals (to scold or reprimand someone)
  • to rake over the coals (to dredge up past issues)
  • to walk on hot coals (to be in a situation that could easily turn worse)

Despite their apparent similarity to the example you cite, variations on these idioms are not intended by the writer of your passage.

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    It's possible that "crawl over hot coals" is an amplification of the extreme ordeal implied by "walk over hot coals": Normally, crawling is slower than walking, and crawling on coals would presumably involve touching the coals with one's hands and knees (at least), rather than only with the soles of one's feet.
    – Sven Yargs
    May 20, 2016 at 1:22
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    @Sven Yargs is right. That's exactly what is going on. But it is not a standard use of the idiom "walk on hot coals" that I point to, which means "to be in a situation that could easily turn worse" (if you misstep, for example). Rather, it's standard exaggeration involving the literal meaning of "to crawl on coals".
    – DyingIsFun
    May 20, 2016 at 1:25
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    @Silenus That isn't a usage of the 'hot coals' phrase that I am aware of, can you point us towards examples of it being used that way? cheers
    – Spagirl
    May 20, 2016 at 9:48

'Would crawl over a heap of hot coals' isn't a set phrase, but it is a variation of Would walk over hot coals, which is. Would walk over hot coals for/would sooner walk over hot coals than... conveys great dedication to the person or circumstance that you would walk over coals for/in preference to, such that you would be prepared to risk your own personal safety for their benefit or to avoid that circumstance. Usage examples

Colin would walk over hot coals for his best friend

She'd sooner walk over hot coals than ever swallow her pride

Assuming that the use in relation to a person, rather than a thing you don't want to do is the more common meaning as the balance of google results suggests, it might possibly be linked to the bible verse Proverbs 6:28-9 which likens the certainty of punishment for adultery to the certainty of burning when walking on hot coals.

Or can a man walk on hot coals And his feet not be scorched? So is the one who goes in to his neighbor's wife; Whoever touches her will not go unpunished.

Given that we all know it is possible to walk on hot coals without getting burnt if you are quick enough about it, I am not sure what this means for the biblical pronouncement.

EDIT: the phrase 'crawl over a heap of hot coals' may also draw on the phrase 'crawl over broken glass' which has similar meaning to 'walk over hot coals' but in my observation, tends to be used more to express something you would endure to satisfy your own desire for something, rather than having any altruistic connotation.

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    What does "ETA" mean in your context? To me, it means "Estimated Time of Arrival"!
    – TrevorD
    May 20, 2016 at 10:29
  • Oops, 'edited to add', the only other forum I ever used which had a field for explaining edits,. that was the common habit, I assumed it was a generic thing.
    – Spagirl
    May 20, 2016 at 10:35

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