carry coals To be put upon; to submit to degradation or humiliation; to put up with insults; also bear coals. This expression, which dates from 1522, refers to those servants considered the lowest of the low in any household, i.e., the coal and wood carriers, due to the dirty nature of their work. Shakespeare used the phrase in Romeo and Juliet:
Gregory, on my word, we’ll not carry coals. (I, i)
cry stinking fish To badmouth one-self, to belittle or disparage one’s own efforts or character, to put one-self down; to cause others to think ill of one-self. To cry means ‘to sell by outcry,’ ‘to offer for sale by auction,’ or ‘to announce’ (OED). Obviously one who wishes to sell fish will not say it stinks. Crying “stinking fish” is self-defeating, and—inasmuch as what one sells is a reflection of one-self—self-deprecating as well. This picturesque expression has been in use since the mid-1600s.
dig one’s own grave To bring about one’s own downfall, to be the instrument of one’s own destruction.
Of course any apologia is necessarily a whine to some extent; a man digs his own grave and should, presumably, lie in it. (F. Scott Fitzgerald, Letters, 1934)
hide one’s light under a bushel To conceal or obscure one’s talents and abilities, to be excessively modest or unassuming about one’s gifts, to be self-effacing. The allusion is Biblical; in his Sermon on the Mount, Jesus urges his followers to let others benefit from their good qualities:
Neither do men light a candle, and put it under a bushel, but on a candlestick; and it giveth light to all that are in the house. Let your light so shine before men, that they may see your good works, and glorify your Father which is in heaven. (Matthew 5:15-16)
Bushel in this expression indicates a vessel or container of this capacity and not the measure itself.
stand in one’s own light To injure one’s reputation through brazen conduct; to damage one’s prospects for success through improper behavior. This self-evident expression is infrequently heard today.
Take a fool’s counsel, and do not stand in your own light. (Ben Johnson, A Tale of a Tub, 1633)
take eggs for money To allow another to take unfair advantage of one-self; to let one-self be cheated or imposed upon. The expression appears in Shakespeare’s The Winter’s Tale:
Mine honest friend
Will you take eggs for money? (I, ii)
This expression stems from the fact that eggs were once so plentiful and cheap that they were virtually worthless.