Today the Guardian reported BA selling off crockery from its first class cabins. The meaning here is clear. However, is there any word play in here?

Does selling one's china have historical connotations of someone being miserable? In my mind, not born in an English speaking country, it conjures the image of one being totally miserable. Not necessarily whilst in possession of china crookery but ready to sell anything to be able to survive one day more.

Is this the same image that an English speaker would have? perhaps it was a common occurrence in crisis times that china in a household became the last possible valuable item that one could sell and thus as such became an expression? I can find no references whilst googling but I feel so strongly about it that I thought would ask?

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    I'd say you've nailed it (you're right). That is indeed what it means and the image it invokes. How commonly it would be used as a "saying" though, I can't say.
    – MarielS
    Nov 23, 2020 at 23:36
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    The only phrase of this nature that is in common use is "selling off the family silver" but that has rather different connotations. The idea conveyed by "selling off the family silver" is that the person doing that is being profligate and reckless and funding excess by disposing of valuable assets.
    – BoldBen
    Nov 24, 2020 at 0:13

1 Answer 1


For some reason it occurred to me to search online for "selling the family china" idiom - Maybe there is an old memory somewhere. Of course the family china is inherited and passed down from generation to generation. It has sentimental as well as monetary value.

In fact I did get some results - These suggest to me that this is an idiom that refers to selling off assets in desperation.

  • Yep, I think I've seen this a few times over the decades.
    – Hot Licks
    Nov 24, 2020 at 0:49

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