The new and exquisitely beautiful theatre of Drury-lane has the peculiar contrivance of an iron-curtain to secure the audience from all danger, in case of fire on the stage. Miss Farren, in the occasional epilogue, delivered on opening this new theatre, pleasantly informs the spectators that, should flames burst out in the part appropriated to the representation, they may comfort themselves with thinking that nothing can be burnt but the scenery and the actors. [The Monthly Review, June 1794]
From 1819 in the figurative sense "impenetrable barrier." In reference to the Soviet occupation of Eastern Europe, famously coined by Winston Churchill March 5, 1946, in speech at Westminster College, Fulton, Missouri, but it had been used earlier in this context (for example by U.S. bureaucrat Allen W. Dulles at a meeting of the Council on Foreign Relations, Dec. 3, 1945). The phrase had been used in the sense of "barrier at the edge of the sphere of influence of the Soviet Union" from 1920. During World War II, Goebbels used it in German (ein eiserner Vorhang) in the same sense. But its popular use in the U.S. dates from Churchill's speech.
slang phrase meaning, more or less, "I don't care, I don't worry," 1913, of unknown origin, but perhaps derived from Yiddish nisht gefidlt. Said to have been popularized by comedienne Fanny Brice (1891-1951), but earliest references do not mention her.
Chicken pox doesn't poison the wellsprings of one's existence like 'Ish kabibble,' and 'I should worry.!' Do you think it's any fun to bring up children to speak decent English, and then have their conversation strewed with phrases like that and with ain'ts? Do you think I like to hear Robert talking about his little friends as 'de guys' and 'de ginks?' [Mary Heaton Vorse, "Their Little Friends," in Woman's Home Companion, February 1916]
symbol of artistic or intellectual aloofness, by 1889, from French tour d'ivoire, used in 1837 by critic Charles-Augustin Sainte-Beuve (1804-1869) with reference to the poet Alfred de Vigny (1797-1863), whom he accused of excessive aloofness.
Et Vigny, plus secret, comme en sa tour d'ivoire, avant midi rentrait. [Sainte-Beuve, "Pensées d'Août, à M. Villemain," 1837]
Used earlier as a type of a wonder or a symbol of "the ideal." The literal image is perhaps from Song of Solomon [vii:4]:
Thy neck is as a tower of ivory; thine eyes like the fishpools in Heshbon, by the gate of Bathrabbim: thy nose is as the tower of Lebanon which looketh toward Damascus. [KJV]