'It Came in the Mail Over the Transom'

'Without solicitation or prior arrangement'

Lookups for transom spiked over 13,600% above the hourly average on March 15, 2017, after President Trump’s 1040 from 2005 was released to the public on MSNBC. The form was apparently sent to a journalist who specializes in covering tax policy and loopholes, who said “It came in the mail over the transom.”

Over the transom is an idiom that means “without solicitation or prior arrangement,” another way of saying “without being asked for or expected.” The phrase is used especially to describe a book or story that is sent to a publisher.

Transom means either “a stone or wooden bar that goes across the top of a door or window”—a synonym of lintel—or “a small window that is above a door or larger window.” It came to English from the Medieval French word meaning “to set crosswise,” and ultimately from the Latin word transversus, meaning transverse (“being across” or “set crosswise”).

The vocabulary of doors is a rich source for metaphor: threshold meaning “a piece of wood, metal, or stone that lies under a door” goes back over a thousand years, but the figurative meaning “the point or level at which something begins or changes” only dates to the mid-1800s.

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