a sheep in sheep's clothing

Stephen Goranson goranson at DUKE.EDU
Thu Sep 20 11:50:34 UTC 2012

Other than late attribution to Churchill, "a sheep in sheep's clothing" is often ascribed to Edmund Gosse. According to a plausible-sounding autobiography, Under the Bridge by Ferris Greenslet (p. 104), soon after Gosse became librarian to the House of Lords [1904?] there was a party at which "the wolly-bearded poet, Sturge Moore" arrived late, upon which Gosse "whispered in my ear, "A sheep in sheep's clothing." This memory was published in 1943, by which time the phrase had appeared in print multiple times (e.g. by Louis Untermeyer and in Punch, both in 1930). The phrase has also been attributed to W.B. Yeats, A.E. Housman, Max Beerbohm, Robbie Ross, and Isaac Leslie Hore-Belisha. It is possible that it had more than one origin.

A full view at Google Books (shown only with GB-acceptable date limits) shows that the phrase was used, sans snark, in March 1881 in The Parish Magazine for Berkeley, Coaley, Dursley, King-Stanley, Stinchcombe and Uley-cum-Owlpen, page 13, by G. S. O.:

And thus Thomas of Aquino lived and died, one of the holy and humble men of heart who, in their day, crucified the flesh with its affections and lusts — a sheep in sheep's clothing, as religious as he seemed, the salt of his order and of the earth.


Stephen Goranson

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

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