ivory tower

Why are academics chided as being in an ivory tower? What does an ivory tower have to do with seclusion or separation from the world?

The inspiration is the Bible. The Song of Solomon 7:4 (KJV) reads:

Thy neck is as a tower of ivory

In 1837, the French poet Charles-Augustin Saint-Beuve wrote a poem titled Pensés d’Août (Thoughts of August) that contained the line:

Et Vigny, plus secret,
Comme en sa tour d’ivoire, avant midi rentrait.
(And Vigny, more discreet,
As if in his ivory tower, retired before noon.

This figurative sense of ivory tower was first used in English in 1911 by Brereton and Rothwell in their translation of H.L. Bergson’s Laughter:

Each member must be ever attentive to his social surroundings...he must avoid shutting himself up in his own peculiar character as a philosopher in his ivory tower.

And around 1916 Henry James penned a novel with that title, cementing the term in English vocabulary.

(Source: Oxford English Dictionary, 2nd Edition)

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