Posted by R. Berg on September 23, 2003
In Reply to: May as well be hanged for a sheep as for a lamb. posted by Smokey Stover on September 23, 2003
: : : Perhaps this is better known, or appears in the thesaurus, in some other form. I'm not sure what it means precisely. In olden times sheep were considered more valuable than goats. But I don't see how that matters.
: : "The phrase 'Hung for a sheep, hung for a goat' appeared recently in a Los Angeles weekly. Aside from the fact that it ought to be hanged not hung, it clearly meant from the context 'damned if you do, damned if you don't'. But what is the origin of this expression?"
: : The writer had his proverbs a bit mixed. The older phrasing is "As well be hanged for a sheep as a lamb", or in more modern terms "One might as well be hanged for a sheep as a lamb". It refers to a time in England-less than 200 years ago-when the penalty for any theft of livestock was execution by hanging. If the penalty is the same in either case, you might as well steal a full-grown sheep as the smaller lamb. So it doesn't mean what the writer thought it means, but rather that there's no point in half measures: if you're going to do something, go the whole way or do it in full.
: Thanks, GPP, that's exactly what I wanted to know, although I have only seen the expression with the word goat, not lamb.
In the U.S., the standard form uses "lamb."