AE 454 – Expression: Have a Skeleton in Your Closet

Learn Australian English in this expression episode of the Aussie English Podcast where I teach you how to use the expression to HAVE A SKELETON IN YOUR CLOSET like a native speaker.

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AE 454 – Expression: Have a Skeleton in the Closet 

As far as gripping, real-life crime thrillers go, this one has got everything. A mutiny, a psychopath, and a brutal mass murder. It’s a 400-year-old mystery, so it’s also Australia’s greatest cold case.

It starts in 1629, when the Dutch sailing ship Batavia strikes a tiny atoll off the West Australian coast near Geralton. Almost 300 passengers and crew survive the shipwreck, but over the next few months as they wait to be rescued more than 100 of them are slaughtered.

For centuries, their bodies lay buried, the story forgotten, but now the Batavia is a major archaeological project between Australia and the Netherlands, and every day macabre new discoveries are being dug up.


G’day you mob. What is going on?

Welcome to this episode of Aussie English, the number one podcast for anyone and everyone wanting to learn Australian English, or just English in general.

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Anyway, today’s scene, guys. Today’s scene was from a program called 60 Minutes, a news program in Australia. 60 Minutes is pretty good if you’re interested in, I guess, what’s going on around the world, what’s going on in Australia, and you want exposure to many different Australian English speakers, usually, and you want to hear about interesting stories. You can find that all on YouTube. I will link the video for today’s Aussie Fact, which will be going over what happened in Western Australia in the 1600s, and it’s a segment called Island of Horror. So, I’ll link that idea. I recommend that you check out 60 Minutes on YouTube and that you subscribe to their channel and improve your English.

Anyway, a few announcements before we get into today, guys. So, this week has been pretty productive. I’ve been working like crazy. I put up a video recently showcasing my French and my Portuguese. So, this is the most recent video that I have put on YouTube. The Mass Sentence Method. So, I’m using a different method to learn French and Portuguese for the next few months and I wanted to make a video to sort of use it as… I guess, to show where I am currently with my skills, or lack thereof, in each of these languages. Anyway, check that out.

And aside from that, guys, I got engaged this week. So, I’ve… I got engaged to Kel over. We’ve spoken. We were chatting. It’s a long story, but we’re going to get married within the next, probably, six months to a year. So, yeah, that was… that was really amazing and I can’t wait to start my life with Kel, obviously, yeah.

So, that was that was really, really wonderful. I’m so glad she said yes. So, glad she said yes.

Anyway, guys, I’ve done a Walking with Pete episode about that, which will be up soon as well if you want to hear the story of how we got engaged. It’s not very crazy, but that will be up soon.

All right. So, today’s expression is ‘have skeletons in your closet’. This one comes from Belle who mentioned this in the Aussie English private Facebook group for members of the Aussie English Classroom. Every week we vote on a different expression and this was hers, ‘to have skeletons in your closet’.

Before we get into that, guys, let’s go through the joke today. So, the expression is obviously about skeletons so I thought it made sense to find a joke about a skeleton or some skeleton. So, here’s the joke:

Why did the skeleton drop out of medical school? Why did the skeleton drop out, as in, to fail, to leave, to quit medical school? Why did the skeleton drop out of medical school? He didn’t have the stomach for it. Another good one. Another good one. He didn’t have the stomach for it.

Do you get it? The stomach as in an organ in your body, but we use ‘to not have the stomach for something’ meaning that you can’t do it, you don’t have the guts, the strength, to be able to do it. And it sort of suggests that you get sick, you know, you feel sick at the sight of, say, dissecting a human body doing surgery. If you don’t have the stomach for something, it’s usually something disgusting and you’re going to feel sick if you see it. Okay? So, why did the skeleton drop out of medical school? He didn’t have the stomach for it, because he couldn’t handle surgeries, but he’s also a skeleton and he has inner organs. Pretty good joke.

All right, as usual, let’s go through the definitions in the expression ‘to have a skeleton in your closet’, and then we’ll go through what it means, where it came from, a little listen and repeat exercise, and then an interesting murder mystery Aussie Fact at the end, guys.

So, ‘to have’. ‘To have’ means to own or to possess something, right? If I have a dog, I own a dog. If I have friends, I possess friends. (I) don’t necessarily own them. They’re not my… they’re not something that I bought, but I have friends.

‘A skeleton’. ‘A skeleton’ is an internal or external framework of bone, cartilage, or rigid material that supports or contains the body of an animal. Okay? So, the human skeleton comprises 270 bones at birth, which later on then fuse and turn into 206 bones. If you ever went skateboarding as a kid or climbing trees as a kid you might fall out of the tree and break a bone, which is part of your skeleton.

And the last word here, ‘a closet’. ‘A closet’ is a cupboard or wardrobe, especially one tall enough to walk into. So, I have a few closets here in my room and it’s where I keep all of my clothes. I keep my clothes in the closet, in the wardrobe, in the cupboard.

So, let’s go through and define the expression, guys, ‘to have a skeleton in the closet’, or you might sometimes hear this as ‘to have a skeleton in the cupboard’, and sometimes too you might hear someone refer to ‘skeletons’. It could be plural. Someone has some skeletons in their closet. They have one or two skeletons in their closet. But the most common one is ‘to have a skeleton in your closet’.

So, if you have a skeleton in your closet, it has to have some kind of embarrassing fact or discreditable fact that you want to keep secret. So, it’s used to describe something that is an undisclosed fact about someone, which if this fact was revealed, it would damage the perceptions of the person or it would damage that person’s reputation.

So, obviously, it evokes the idea of someone having, presumably, a human corpse concealed in their home, you know, hidden in a closet so long that it’s decomposed. Except for the bones or skeletons. So, it’s been kept a secret that entire time.

So, let’s go through the origin, guys. So, it was known to have been used as early as 1816 in the monthly British journal The Eclectic Review, and ‘the skeleton’ in this case was disease, infectious or hereditary. And here’s the quote:

Two great sources of distress are the danger of contagion and the apprehension of hereditary diseases. The dread of being the cause of misery to posterity has prevailed over men to conceal the skeleton in the closet.

So, they’re trying to hide a disease that they have. So, a theory of where this originated is that it could have potentially derived from the era when body snatching was common. This is when people were stealing corpses in the UK. And so, prior to 1832 the United Kingdom’s Anatomy Act allowed the corpses of dead people to be more extensively used in medical research. And so, this is where you had people digging up graves and taking bodies. And so, the theory here is that maybe you would be a doctor who would conceal a body that had been snatched, that had been taken, in your cupboard or closet, which would be, you know, illegally used for teaching. Okay?

So, let’s go through three examples of how I would use this expression, guys.

Example number one. Imagine that I am a politician and I am running for election. I’m likely to win, everyone really likes me, but a few days before the election it comes out that I am a racist. I’m a closet racist, meaning that I hide the fact that I am racist. So, I have racist opinions and I’ve tried to keep them closeted, I’ve tried to keep them private. So, when this gets revealed to the public, it’s obviously a previously undisclosed fact that I was wanting to hide that I had kept, you know, closeted and only my closest supporters may have known, but once everyone knew, it was, you know, a rather unfortunate skeleton in my closet that people found. So, racism was the skeleton in the closet that I had in my life. So, when the voters of my electorate found out about the skeleton in the closet that I was hiding, the fact that I was racist, they refused to support me and vote for me.

Example number two. Imagine that you are an ex-convict. So, you were in jail for maybe 5 to 10 years maybe for something like tax fraud or laundering money from your company. So, if when you get out of jail you’re now, you know, no longer a prisoner, but you are an ex-prisoner you are an ex-convict, you start applying for jobs at different companies, and it’s likely that you’re going to want to hide the fact that you had gone to jail for tax fraud. So, if you went to a job interview and they were asking probing questions about your past, you know, they’re probing, they’re trying to find out, “What were you doing for the last 5 to 10 years? How come you didn’t have a job?”. You probably want to keep that skeleton in your closet. You want to hide that skeleton in your closet. You want to make sure that the fact that you were in jail for tax fraud, that is the skeleton in your closet, you want to make sure that that isn’t known. You don’t want them to find out.

Example number three. Maybe you’re going on a date with a girl or a guy, and the person is trying to probe you to find out about your history to find out about your past. You know, as people on first dates tend to do. They want to know about each other and where you grew up, what you did, blah, blah, blah. If you’re being open and honest with this person, you might say to them, “I’m an open book. You can ask me anything.” And if you have nothing to hide, you could say, “Don’t worry, I don’t have any skeletons in my closet. I don’t have anything to hide. I don’t have any skeletons in my closet.”.

So, hopefully you understand the expression, guys, ‘to have a skeleton in the closet’ or ‘in your closet’. It is to have some kind of discreditable or embarrassing fact that you’re trying to keep secret so that your reputation isn’t tarnished, so that you aren’t embarrassed in front of a lot of people or, yeah, have damaged perceptions about yourself.

So, let’s go through a listen and repeat exercise, guys, and then we can go through the Aussie fact.

So, listen and repeat after me, guys. This is your chance to practice your pronunciation. And remember, if you want to go more in depth with connected speech, with Australian pronunciation, with intonation, all of that kind of stuff and you really want to improve your accent, sign up to the Aussie English Classroom at There’s a whole course on pronunciation and there will be a video for today’s pronunciation exercise as well. So, let’s go.


To have

To have a

To have a skeleton

To have a skeleton in

To have a skeleton in your

To have a skeleton in your closet

Do I have a skeleton in my closet?

Do you have a skeleton in your closet?

Does he have a skeleton in his closet?

Does she have a skeleton in her closet?

Do we have a skeleton in our closet?

Do they have a skeleton in their closet?

Does it have a skeleton in its closet?


Great job, guys. Great job. Let’s go through the Aussie English Fact and then let’s finish up.

All right, guys. So, the year is 1629. This is 140 years before Captain Cook discovered Australia in 1770. Dutch ship Batavia has hit a tiny atoll off Western Australia’s coast near the town of Geraldton and nearly 300 crew members have survived the shipwreck. But over the next three months, as you’re about to find out, hundreds of them were slaughtered. So, to this day, it still remains Australia’s first and biggest mass murder, and for hundreds of years, the bodies were left in the sand of this island and the story was somewhat forgotten.

So, what happened here exactly? So, the Dutch vessel Batavia was headed to the city of Batavia, which was Jakarta in Indonesia. That’s what its name was at the time. It sailed badly off course for some reason on its way, though, and it struck Australia as Abrolhos islands on the West Coast.

Forty people drowned just trying to swim to the small island after the ship had wrecked and the ship’s commander Francisco Pelsaert took a long boat and sailed north to Jakarta for help, meanwhile, leaving a man called Jeronimus Cornelisz in charge. And this guy turned out to be a total psychopath.

So, a few weeks after the shipwreck, Cornelisz ordered his supporters to murder any potential opponents as well as anyone considered a drain on supplies. So, the strong, the weak, and the old were all slaughtered as well as many women and children. However, some women were kept as sexual slaves. You know, typical, huh?

Many of the skeletons that have been recovered display incredibly bad signs of sharp weapon trauma, which goes to show the brutality that occurred on this island. Fortunately, there was a hero, a soldier named Wiebbe Hayes, and this guy was sent initially by Cornelisz to some surrounding islands, a small group of islands nearby, with some men to look for food and water, but I’m pretty sure based on what we know now he was sent away. They wanted him to be away so that they had more control and they could obviously carry out these murders. And this became evident when Wiebbe and his group found water and they set off a fire to show Cornelisz that they’d found, and Cornelisz ignored the fire.

So, Hayes and the group worked out something strange was going on, especially after a few people in some makeshift rafts made it to the island where Hayes was and started to tell of the horror that Cornelisz had been orchestrating.

When the survivors made it to the island, they raised the alarm obviously and they told him about what Cornelisz was doing, and Hayes knew that it was just a matter of time before Cornelisz would come for them as well. So, they built a makeshift kind of shelter made from stone slabs to provide some protection and to prepare for what they thought was an inevitable battle. So, this was the first European structure to be built on Australian soil.

Three months later the captain Pelsaert arrived back at the atoll with a rescue ship and both Cornelisz and Hayes had to race in their own boats to get to the ship first to tell their side of the story. So, fortunately, Hayes got there first and Pelsaert found out the truth about war Cornelius had done slaughtering all these people, keeping these women as sex slaves on this island.

So, there was a trial and 7 of the mutineers including Cornelisz were hanged. Although, Cornelisz had both of his hands chiseled off before he was hanged.

And the crazy thing is that Cornelisz showed absolutely no sign of remorse this entire time suggesting that he was indeed a total psychopath.

Luckily 80 to 90 of the people who were initially shipwrecked made it all the way back to Batavia alive with Pelsaert.

So, that is the story, guys. A pretty crazy story about the first and largest ever mass murder in Australia by the Dutch on these small islands off the West Coast.

So, I hope you enjoy this episode, guys. I hope you found that fact at the end incredibly interesting. Make sure that if you want the transcripts and the MP3s for the podcast episodes to sign up to be a member at It’s just four dollars or so per month to get access to everything.

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Anyway, I will chat to you soon, guys. Have a great weekend.

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