Robbing Peter to pay Paul

Posted by ESC on January 28, 2001

In Reply to: Robbing Peter to pay Paul posted by R. Berg on January 28, 2001

: : : I have a bet with someone on who can find the origin of this first. Does anyone have an idea? I've been all over the web with some pretty good sites but can't find the phrase. Anyone?

: : : thanks,
: : : Michael

: : Michael, if you win the bet, are you offering to share your winnings with the person who did the research?

: That wasn't very nice of me, was it? Anyway, setting aside issues of robbery and payment, a few minutes of searching in Bartlett's Familiar Quotations turned up "To robbe Peter and pay Poule" as an entry in a collection of English "Proverbes" compiled by John Heywood (1497-1580). That doesn't mean that Mr. Heywood originated the saying, only that he wrote it down.

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).