Wednesday, February 27, 2019

Episode 37: Rob Peter to Pay Paul Transcript

Click on “Read More” for the full transcript.

We used Temi to auto transcribe this, then Dan went through and checked it based on the show notes. He tried really hard on it, but this kind of stuff isn't his specialty. So if you notice anything confusing, please comment on this post so Dan can look at it and clarify anything.

Shauna:                               00:00                    Welcome to Bunny trails, a whimsical adventure of idioms and other turns of phrase. I'm Shauna Harrison
Dan:                                     00:05                    And I'm Dan Pugh. Each week we delve deep into the origins of an English phrase and tell the journey to where it is today. Before we jump into the phrase this week though, I've got a correction to make. So in our last episode about Davy Jones' locker, I said that Jonah, which as everyone can remember, is the talking asparagus who was swallowed by the great fish in the children's Veggie Tales Bible. Anyway, I said that Jonah, uh, and the, and the great fish or whale as some would say a was from Nineveh. And of course he was not from Nineveh. He was supposed to be going to Nineveh according to his sky fairy boss, but then was trying not to go and that's why he got on the boat to avoid having to go to Nineveh in the first place.
Shauna:                               00:46                    Yeah, yeah. He was avoiding Nineveh.
Dan:                                     00:46                    Yes, and then had enraged God who then, I dunno... People threw him overboard. And then apparently a big fish swallowed him or something, anyway, whatever, I don't, I don't know. I couldn't be bothered to look up where Jonah actually was from because I don't know, but it wasn't Nineveh. That's the point. However, the Ninevites were known for being untrustworthy, which is what I said. So at least I was right there.
Shauna:                               01:11                    He just wasn't one of them.
Dan:                                     01:12                    He just wasn't, well, I mean he obviously was, yeah, he was running or running away from his boss or whatever. So, um, and his boss had the authority to apparently be able to like spin up a really big, uh, storm to chase him down.
Shauna:                               01:25                    Right, like smite the sea and send giant fish after him?
Dan:                                     01:30                    Right? Yeah. Well the giant fish I would argue was helpful in the long run
Shauna:                               01:35                    Well I guess... just give them safe, safe transport.
Dan:                                     01:37                    I don't know. All right. We've already spent a few moments on this and so I'd like to stop robbing Peter to pay Paul so that we can move on to today's idiom.
Shauna:                               01:46                    Can I guess what it is?
Dan:                                     01:47                    Uh, you can.
Shauna:                               01:49                    Is it robbing Peter to pay Paul?
Dan:                                     01:52                    No, the world is your oyster
Shauna:                               01:54                    Ah, man.
Dan:                                     01:54                    Nah, I'm kidding. It's robbing Peter to pay Paul.
Shauna:                               02:00                    Oh geez. That was really clever.
Dan:                                     02:01                    I know, right? Right. Well that's, it was like triple callback to last week. All right. So to Rob Peter, to pay Paul and the variants there in, uh, mean to take away from one person cause you're trying to pay or confer something to another person. So the concept is you're taking away from one person in order to give it to another person. So with that in mind, let's look and see where this comes from. And like many phrases, it, uh, is really difficult to tell. But I want to start with where we first see it attested is in a translation of Lanfranc's Science of Surgery And in this it says specifically that "you should choose medicines according to the patient's constitution. Some medicine is good for Peter and bad for Paul." So that's the first time we see this kind of, uh, um, this kind of a phrase used. Uh, i's not at this point, it's not robbing Peter to pay Paul, but we see the concept of Peter and Paul and some sort of a variant here, right? And so some medicine is good for Peter and but bad for Paul. Right? But then in Jacob's Well, which was a said to have been written around 1450 common era and in this one in, in different two different places. In this book it specifically says that robbing Saint Peter and then send it to Paul... basically.
Shauna:                               03:29                    Oh, okay.
Dan:                                     03:30                    So in this case we see it in two different locations in the 14 hundreds that they were using some variant in good for x, not good for why or robbing one to pay the other, that kind of thing. And they use Peter and Paul both in those examples. Okay. So now that doesn't really give us a reason why the phrase Peter and Paul, why, why those names? But we'll, we'll talk about that here in a few minutes and see if we can maybe make some guesstimations. We know that in Wycliffe's, this could be the first time it was used in English in, his selected works cause he was riding in the 13 hundreds probably 1382 is when we would think this, but we can, we only have versions of it that were translated in the 15 hundreds. So we, we can only verify that it would have used here where he says, uh, robbing Peter and give his robbery to Paul in the name of Christ. We can only be sure that that happened in 1500 in that translation. And we can't be sure that the translation was accurate to what Wycliffe had said, but if it was, then that would have been yet another example of it. Even beforehand. However, this is still 1500, which is before the commonly misattributed, uh, situation in 1661 and this is where Mr Heylyn had wrote in the Ecclesia Restavrata and it said "The lands of Westminster so dilapidated by Bishop Thirlby, that there was almost nothing left to support the dignity; for which good service he had been preferred to the see of Norwich, in the year foregoing. Most of the lands invaded by the great men of the court, the rest laid out for reparation to the Church of Saint Paul - pared almost to the very quick in those days of rapine. From hence first came that significant by-word (as is said by some) of robbing Peter to pay Paul."
Dan:                                     05:25                    So in this case he's trying to make the claim that this is where that came from and I'm sure they believe that. I don't, I don't think he's lying here necessarily just ill informed so that we know it. We know it was used before this was written. Uh, but I think that they saw this as an example of a thing that happened locally or in their area. And said, oh, this must be where that comes from. And so they just attributed it to that. Even though that that's obviously isn't where it came from several hundred years earlier. Uh, so now this actually this often, so I said it was very misattributed, this was actually a common misbelief in the 1940s that this was the origin as well. So it was frequently cited in American newspapers throughout the country at as the origin of this phrase.
Shauna:                               06:11                    Right.
Dan:                                     06:12                    But it's of course not. We were not entirely sure where the origin is, but we know it was at least 250 years before this, maybe, maybe even longer.
Shauna:                               06:21                    The papers in that timeframe really always, uh, we're trying to pin down where things were, phrases and things came from or maybe not actually find the origin of them, but tell a story about them.
Dan:                                     06:32                    Right. Well, the things that I see about newspapers, uh, at least in the Americas is that they frequently, they frequently cite each other as, as the source. And we see that in the Internet now too, especially when you're looking at these phrases. There are lots of places that say, well, a phrase originated here and a phrase originated here, and there's a couple of places that that even try and say that this phrase originated because of this here, this thing that we just read. Uh, but we know that's not true. And most of the, most of the sites that are not just basic sites but are, uh, go into a little bit more depth where someone's actually running it and it's not like a wiki editing thing. Most of those are like, now I know it's obviously this didn't, this isn't where that originated. While they don't get all of them right, they, they at least recognize this one. So we continue to see that this is not changed in, you know, this was the 1940s, and even in the 17 hundreds of newspapers in America, we still saw those same things. So that practice has not changed from the late 17 hundreds to the 2010s where we are now because we are continuing to not really do our own work and just cite things that are easy to find and not, not even digging. And in this time of the Internet, that's a, that's a really dumb, because just a little, literally like 10 minutes of Internet searching and you can find a different, where you're like, wait, maybe this isn't true. Oh my goodness. All right, so let's move on a little bit. I want to bounce up to, uh, let's say 1737, and The Gentleman's Magazine, uh, the march edition said "This scheme is calculated to Rob Peter and pay Paul or to remove the burden from one part of the community and laid upon the other. "
Dan:                                     08:07                    So we continue to see this phrase used in pretty much this exact same way. And spoiler alert, it's continued to use of the entire time. It's always been used like this. Okay. Uh, in The National Intelligencer and Washington Advertiser, which is a newspaper out of the Washington DC area, this was in the November 4th, 1805 edition, and this is in a section that was just titled "From Haiti" about the news. And in this case, Captain Swain had arrived in Baltimore from the West indies and he informed the Haitian that the Haitian government had determined, and I quote here "To purchase no more American cargoes until the debts due government had been discharged holding that they had got in their clutches and requisition for that purpose. This will not be robbing Peter to pay Paul. But robbing, both Peter and Paul." So in this case, uh, the Haitian government was like America, you owe us money and we're done with, with paying around so you can pay us. Yeah, that was, uh, that was 1805 and the national debt is in the trillions now or something. So apparently we haven't changed that much. Oh Man. America. All right, so here's a, an odd place. So you've heard us talk about the dictionary of the vulgar tongue before by Francis Gross. And in the 1811 version, I wanted to see if they listed rob Peter to pay Paul. I didn't think they would because it, this wouldn't have been something that an, uh, a sophisticated person would, would refrain from saying it was in enough of the vernacular and had been for so long that it was perfectly reasonable to use it in print as we frequently see from the timeframe. But I did find a passage that uses that as a, as an example. And so this was in a, um, a definition called apostles or another way to say it was "to maneuver the apostles" and it basically meant robbing Peter to pay Paul. That is to borrow money of one man to pay another man. So they had a, in the 18 hundreds, they even had a slang, uh, maneuver the apostles as you know, to, to me, robbing Peter to pay Paul.
Shauna:                               10:08                    That's your, you're like juggling your resources.
Dan:                                     10:11                    Right, right. I know.
Shauna:                               10:14                    Manuever the apostles, that's very interesting.
Dan:                                     10:18                    I, uh, I also, I also like, there's a 1855, um, uh, book rise... "Rise Dutch Republic" and uh, by JL Motley. And in this, uh, they specifically said "It was not desirable to rob Saint Peter's altar in order to build one to Saint Paul." So here this one's not necessarily a financial thing, uh, in as much as it is to, well, it's a little bit financial, but, uh, it is, it's also harkening back to the potential religious roots of those two names. So in the Presbytarian of the South October 13th, 1909, they are arguing here about money being diverted one way or the other. And it says, "the last issue of the China Bulletin said is it is reported that the money promised has been diverted to Korea and the seminary is left again in the lurch. Financially. Surely there is enough money for both Korea and China. Surely It is not necessary to rob Peter to pay Paul." So in this case, we're seeing it used exactly the same. This is, uh, it's, I feel like I'm going to become a broken record here because it's just, we're using it in exactly the same way. So this is one of those few phrases that we're not sure where it started to get to, to, you know, Rob Peter to pay Paul originated. But we can say that since it entered into the lexicon, it has not changed at all in the way we use it. Uh, in a, uh, 19, 26 times article, a January, 1926, "Martin and Martin had been in low water for a long time and had recourse to the method of robbing Peter to pay Paul." And then maybe my most, my most favorite quotes you re, uh, utilizing this is a slight difference. Uh, this is by George Bernard Shaw. Every in a, in a, in a book he wrote called, it's a, I think it's almost like a textbook really. Uh, it was by constable limited in 1944 and it was called Everybody's Political What's What, and you will see that this phrase is often attributed to George Bernard Shaw. And it took me probably an hour to find the origin of this quote and to verify in a book somewhere. So he said, "a government that robs Peter to pay Paul can always depend on the support of Paul", which was said was said one character to another in this, uh, in this, you know, kind of a play acting book. So it was, it was, it wasn't exactly, it was kind of tongue in cheek, but it was I think said with a little bit of, you know, like a lot of tongue in cheek is there's just all enough layer of truth underneath it to really get it yet.
Shauna:                               12:44                    That's quite the dig. I think that's a really poignant, I mean that is exactly how our transitions of power work within here, right?
Dan:                                     12:51                    Yeah. Within alot of cultures. Uh, so in the Washington DC's Evening Star in March 15th, 1950, there is a piece as being fairly critical of farm subsidies, which is something that you and I both live in Kansas, so we hear about farm subsidies, a lot although, we live in an urban part of Kansas, so it's not something that we deal with a whole lot more than any other urban person would. Meaning we get our food from farms, so thanks farmers. But anyway, this is, it's always been, you know, a big hot button topic about farm subsidies and here, this is from a Boone county farm agent TA Ewing. He says, "farmers are beginning to realize that you cannot rob Peter to pay Paul." So in this case he was trying to make the argument that the way they're doing subsidies is going to, at least in 1950 is going to come back to bite the government and the butt and then they're going to, farmers are going to end up left with nothing.
Dan:                                     13:41                    Now I'm gonna use something from the phrase this is just, this was just the, the writers thought process on maybe why Peter and Paul. So he says the precise date is not, it's not the only aspect of this phrase that's somewhat uncertain scholars, disagree as to thinking of whoever coined it. Of course we've seen that, right? Given that any two names would work in a rob x to pay y proverb, why choose Peter and Paul? He posits that potentially it is the primary reason is the alliteration. Like the same reason Jack is paired with Jill when they went up the hill. Or potentially it could be part of the concept of Saint Peter and Saint Paul going deeper than just sharing the letter p because this expression, from what we can tell was coinned maybe the 13 or 14 hundreds and this is a time when most English speakers were identifying as Christian and they would have been well used to hearing Peter and Paul paired together.
Dan:                                     14:36                    They're both apostles of Christ. They are both martyred in Rome and they shared the Feast Day on the 29th of June at the time. And while the this commemoration passes with little mention now he says that was not the case in medieval England. So when this phrase came about, it is likely that most English speakers would have heard the names Apostle Paul and Apostle Peter. And so the alliterative nature combined with the fact that everybody knew who these people were and that they were on the same team that robbing one to pay the other one doesn't make any sense. And that that's the thought process there. And that frankly makes as much sense as any to me.
Shauna:                               15:13                    Today's show is sponsored by our patrons on Patreon special thanks to our lagomorphology and turns, Charlie Moore and Pat Rowe for sponsoring this episode. is a subscription service that allows you to support content creators you love. It's free to sign up and follow along if you are in a financial situation that allows for monetary support, you can get additional perks for as little as $1 a month. Features like early access to episodes, behind the scenes content, bonus episodes, and more are all available at
Dan:                                     15:46                    There are a couple of songs that I want to point out here. This one from 1995 so called no man's land written by John Scott Sherril and Steve Seskin. It was performed by John Michael Montgomery off his 1995 self titled Album and it says "it's hard to hold down the fort when you're holding down a job. She'd Rob Peter to pay Paul, but he's already been robbed. She gets the food on the table, the clothes off the line. She'd break down and cry, but she doesn't have the time." This is of course a country song as one could tell. I also saw a song in 2011 that came out by the band, a big audio dynamite and it was the first song, I guess in 21 years and it was called Rob Peter to pay Paul and included an oft repeated rhyme. "I got my pride, I want to stay in tall because lifting you up has been my downfall. If you're gonna Rob Peter, you have better pay Paul" this is a, yeah, the actually kind of liked, I mean I liked the song, I like listening to the beat of it. It's had a kind of a classic rock vibe which is, you know, my kind of music so I enjoyed it. And then there were also a variety of self help books with the title Stop Robbing Peter to pay Paul. They were all self help books and they were all either religious or financial in nature and so I just didn't include them. Okay. Normally I would have like, I wouldn't want to talk about like, Oh yeah, this is, here's the synopsis and this is what it is. But when it comes to, when it comes to self help books, that's just not really my thing. So, uh, and also ran across a cartoon by William Dawburn, it's called Peter's lament. And it was a guy sitting here, he's got his hands kind of like thrown up to God and, and he says, why doesn't anyone ever Rob Paul to pay me? Yeah. I thought that was hilarious. So great. Uh, Peters Lament.
Shauna:                               17:26                    I could definitely see this one, like the metaphorical aspect of it, you know, being used. Um, and this phrase continuing for a long time, even if the origin is forgotten or even if people don't know who Peter or Paul are.
Dan:                                     17:39                    Yeah. The eye. Oh, I totally agree. And I think even, you know what I mean, religion always has kind of has his ups and downs and backs and forths and in, and it changes in molds over. But I think that the story of the apostles from the Christian religion are definitely ones that even if that started to wane, I think people would still, because this phrase has been around so long, I think people would still stick with that kind of... There is that a litter of thing like Jack and Jill up the hill, you know Rob Peter to pay Paul. So it's a just kind of flows off the tongue. Some plosives there. Rob Peter to pay Paul. I actually, I don't think I've used this phrase very often, which is part of the reason it was appealing to me. But I do like the concept of the phrase, not the, not the robbing someone part. So I should be clear here a bit, but the understanding that sometimes you're doing something because you are just going through the motions, right? So you're shifting your money or your time or your attention from one thing to another. But at the end of the day you haven't really gained anything. And so many things I do aren't necessarily serving the purpose of my greater goals. So sometimes I just feel like I'm robbing Peter to pay Paul with my energy and my focus. Uh, and so from that front, I like the phrase because it kind of makes me reevaluate things, especially as I have reevaluated the phrase itself. Um, what do I, we know, what do I want to keep doing and, uh, are they serving a purpose and am I just robbing Peter to pay Paul with my time and energy? And so I kind of like that it's a, it's a, it's a good way to stop and think real quick and go, does this make sense?
Shauna:                               19:08                    Okay. Meaningful, right? Super meaningful.
Dan:                                     19:13                    All right, well that about wraps this up today. So a little bit short episode, but we've got some other things that we got to do this week, so we're going to get working on that. And for those of you who are patrons on Patreon, uh, you should have already gotten our February bonus episode on mini episode. Um, so that's about the phrase Hanky Panky. So if you're, so if you're interested, go ahead and check that out. Uh, that is on I'd also like to say a big thank you to those of you who posted reviews for the show. It really is the easiest way to support your favorite podcast, ours or anyone else's. Best of all. It's free. Uh, so definitely take, if you haven't done that yet, take the opportunity to leave a review, whether that's for our show or for somebody else's show, but definitely go in and do that. If you have a suggestion for an idiom or another turn of phrase or you just want to chat, you can catch us on Twitter and Instagram and occasionally even Facebook all @bunnytrailspod or you can get links to everything we do at
Shauna:                               20:07                    We want to ask you this week to follow us on social media. As Dan said, we're on Twitter, Instagram, and Facebook. So if you are on one of those networks, please follow us or like us as the case may be. And uh, just do that. It gives your friends, a chance to see us in your feed. And, and know that we exist as a show and hopefully they'll enjoy it as well.
Dan:                                     20:28                    And also sometimes I say funny things on Twitter, so you can do that.
Shauna:                               20:33                    Thanks again for joining us and we'll talk to you again next week until then. Remember where it's belong to their users.

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