I was reading Wilde's written The Canterville Ghost, when I came across this idiom. This is a little excerpt from the text:

"My Lord," answered the Minister, "I will take the furniture and the ghost at a valuation. I have come from a modern country, where we have everything that money can buy; and with all our spry young fellows painting the Old World red, and carrying off your best actors and prima-donnas, I reckon that if there were such a thing as a ghost in Europe, we'd have it at home in a very short time in one of our public museums, or on the road as a show."

Any guess on what could be the possible meaning of the idiom painting the old world red?

Thanks in advance!

  • To paint something red is to act in a festive manner - to party. May 7, 2020 at 16:40
  • So what it has to do with the old world? May 7, 2020 at 16:41
  • 1
    The Old World = UK and Europe. It is a name coined in contrast to "The New World", a phrase used to describe the US (and more generally, the whole of the Americas.) "The Old World" and "The New World" are now old-fashioned/archaic terms and are not currently used.
    – Greybeard
    May 7, 2020 at 16:54
  • The 'Old World' is a compound noun you can look up. But this could also be a loose collocation, 'old' a term of endearment as in 'Have a brandy, old boy!' or 'Have you heard that poor old Tom's broken his leg?' Hear also 'This old world ...'. May 7, 2020 at 16:55
  • Reading more of the context, it does seem to refer to young men from the New World visiting Europe, and having a wild time. See paint the town red in Lexico. May 7, 2020 at 17:20

1 Answer 1


The American expression "to paint the town red" is a somewhat different expression from that used by Oscar Wilde as far as its origins go. They means about the same thing except that as acknowledged by Oscar Wilde in the "Old World's form", which is probably his own variant of the truly original expression, the original expression might carry some heavier connotations, such as associated with debauchery, not just partying.

According to Wilde the origin is of this expression is Dante's The Inferno (guardian).

  • we are they who painted the world scarlet with sins. (Dante)

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