Mutton Dressed as Lamb

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?

: Thanks

: Tim

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, Dictionary of Catch Phrases: American and British, from the Sixteenth Century to the Present Day].

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].