A wolf in sheep's clothing

A wolf in sheep's clothing

A wolf in sheep's clothing

Fairy tales and fables capture our imagination, don’t they? Many of these magical stories have slowly worked their way into our everyday use of English. Here’s how...

Sour grapes: We often use the words ‘sour grapes’ for something that we wished to have but could not attain and later try and make out that it was never desirable in the first place!

Just like the fox in Aesop’s fables who tried his best to get some grapes that he desired to eat but the bunch was way above his reach.  Giving up, after several attempts to jump as high as he could, the fox walked away consoling himself by saying the grapes were probably sour anyway, and therefore not worth the effort.

A wolf in sheep’s clothing: This phrase comes from another one of Aesop’s fables, where a greedy wolf struck upon a devious plan of disguising himself under a sheep-skin to attack the flock. One day, the farmer discovered the wolf in sheep’s clothing and killed him.  Thus the phrase ‘ a wolf in sheep’s clothing’ is used to describe someone who is dangerous but pretends to be harmless.

Cry wolf: This originates from the story, ‘The boy who cried wolf’, about a young shepherd tending his flock and calling out “Wolf! Wolf!” for fun.  All the villagers would leave their work and rush to his aid only to find there was no wolf there.  After several such false alarms the villagers stopped believing the boy and no one went to his aid when the wolf really came and attacked his sheep, despite his desperate calls of “Wolf! Wolf!”  Thus ‘to cry wolf’ is used even today to denote an alarm that is sounded when no danger is present.

Bell the cat: Have you heard the story of belling the cat? The mice in an old house were being terrorised by a cat.  They held a meeting and decided to put a bell on the cat so that they would be forewarned of its approach and have time to run away.  They all thought it was a wonderful idea until one old mouse spoke up and asked “Who will bell the cat?”  At this point, the meeting dispersed as no mouse was brave enough to venture near the cat and put the bell on it.  Hence the phrase ‘bell the cat’ is used to describe an attempt to perform an impossibly difficult task.

Ugly duckling: From Hans Christian Andersen’s famous story by the same name, where the ugly duckling turned into a beautiful swan in the end as it was not a duckling in the first place. The phrase ‘ugly duckling’ is used to describe someone who is considered ugly or unpromising at first but has the potential of becoming beautiful or promising on maturity.

Kill the goose that lays the golden egg: Do you know the story about the goose that laid golden eggs?  Every day a magical goose laid a golden egg for the poor couple who owned and cared for it.  In time, the couple became greedy and thought that instead of getting one egg daily, they would kill the goose, cut it open and get all the eggs at once and become very rich. 

When they did this, they didn’t find a single golden egg in the goose.  In their greed for more, they lost everything.  The phrase ‘kill the goose that lays the golden egg’ is used when you ruin something profitable.

Open Sesame: Is the famous password that opened the large stone door to the cave of hidden treasures in the tale of Alibaba and the forty thieves from the Arabian Nights. 
These magical words are often uttered in jest to encourage anything we wish to open for us. That’s how ‘Open Sesame’ originated and today you are reading about it and other fairy tale phrases in a paper that goes by the same name and opens up a world of stories, puzzles, pictures and riddles just for you!