Robbing Peter to pay Paul

Posted by ESC on November 21, 2003

In Reply to: Robbing Peter to pay Paul posted by Tim Horner on November 21, 2003

: ROB PETER TO PAY PAUL - "The expression 'rob Peter to pay Paul' goes back at least to John Wycliffe's 'Select English Works,' written in about 1380. Equally old in French, the saying may derive from a 12th-century Latin expression referring to the Apostles: 'As it were that one would crucify Paul in order to redeem Peter.' The words usually mean to take money for one thing and use it for another, especially in paying off debts," according to the Encyclopedia of Word and Phrase Origins by Robert Hendrickson (Fact on File, New York, 1997) ".In 1546, it was included in John Heywood's collection of proverbs: 'To rob Peter to pay Paul.' George Herbert listed it in his collection as 'Give not Saint Peter so much, to leave Saint Paul nothing.' First attested in the United States in 'Thomas Hutchinson Papers' . The proverb has its counterparts in other languages. Decouvrir saint Pierre pour couvrir saint Paul (French, 'Strip Peter to clothe Paul'); Desnudar a uno santo para vestir a otro (Spanish, 'To undress one saint to dress another'); Dem Peter nehmen und dem Paul geben (German, 'To take from Peter and give to Paul'). " according to Random House Dictionary of Popular Proverbs and Sayings by Gregory Y. Titelman (Random House, New York, 1996).

: Thank you so much for the quick response!

: So am I correct in assuming that the saying wasn't derived from one individual who robbed Saint Peter, but more of a moral generalization?

I pick moral generalization. Another source has a bit more:

"John Wycliff had it in the 14th century: 'How should God approve that you rob Peter, and give this robbery to Paul in the name of Christ?'" From The Dictionary of Cliches by James Rogers (Ballantine Books, New York, 1985).