Posted by R. Berg on November 20, 2001
In Reply to: Mutton Dressed as Lamb posted by Tim Herbert on November 20, 2001
: There is a long running debate at my workplace as to the exact reference of the above phrase. Effectively, there are two camps. The first believes that it is a reference to age - i.e. that it is something much older dressed up as something much younger. The second believes that it relates to quality - i.e. that it is something much poorer dressed up as something much better.
: I imagine that whichever of these is correct must hark back to the origin of the phrase. Mutton is taken from an older sheep than a lamb. However, it is also a poorer quality of meat than lamb.
: Which was meant originally?
You can all get back to work now. It's age, not quality.
"'mutton dressed (or dressed up) as lamb' has, since latish C19, been directed at middle-aged and elderly women dressing in an unbecomingly youthful fashion. Drawn from the terminology of the butcher's shop" [Eric Partridge, "A Dictionary of Catch Phrases American and British"].
When words that express
the other meaning are needed, these might do:
"Things are seldom what they seem,
Skim milk masquerades as cream" [W. S. Gilbert, "H.M.S. Pinafore," Act II].