pulling the wool in 1834

George Thompson george.thompson at NYU.EDU
Wed Oct 10 16:30:13 UTC 2012

     It appeared that thieves . . . have a set of technicalities by which
they can carry on their dialogues in the most public assemblages with
comparative security, such as "sand lay," "coal lay," "hauling the wool
over their eyes," &c. which mean that one should divert the attention of
the store-keeper or clerk, by the purchase of sand or coal, whilst the
other pillages the drawer, and afterwards "*pulling the wool over his eyes*,"
by returning and enquiring the time, or on some other petty excuse which
may tend to lull suspicion.

     New York Times, September 5, 1834, p. 2, cols. 3-4  (not connected to
the present-day NY Times)

OED 1 g


1839   *Jamestown (*N.Y.*) Jrnl.* 24 Apr. 1/6   That lawyer has been trying
to spread the wool over your eyes.

1842   *Spirit of Times (*Philadelphia*) *29 Sept.,   Look sharp, or
they'll pull wool over your eyes.

1855   F. M. Whitcher *Widow Bedott Papers* (1883) xv. 55   He ain't so big
a fool as to have the wool drawd over his eyes in that way.

*a*1859   in J. R. Bartlett *Dict. Americanisms* (ed. 2) 517   They think
they find a prize, If they can only pull their wool o'er other people's

1884   W. D. Howells *Rise Silas Lapham* vii,   I don't propose he shall
pull the wool over my eyes.

George A. Thompson
Author of A Documentary History of "The African Theatre", Northwestern
Univ. Pr., 1998, but nothing much since then.

The American Dialect Society - http://www.americandialect.org

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