keep the wolf from the door
The original saying may have been keep the wolf from the gate, which dates from at least 1470. By the 1500s the saying had become keep the wolf from the door, with the current meaning that it bears: see, for example, the 1645 quotation.
There is a suggestion that the phrase may have originated from French or German phrases. Compare the French manger comme un loup (“eat like a wolf”), and the German Wolfsmagen (literally “wolf’s stomach”) means “a keen appetite”.
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keep the wolf from the door (third-person singular simple present keeps the wolf from the door, present participle keeping the wolf from the door, simple past and past participle kept the wolf from the door)
- (idiomatic) To ward off poverty or hunger.
- They didn't earn much, but it was enough to keep the wolf from the door.
- 1645 April 28, James Howell, “LX. To Tho. Young, Esq”, in Epistolæ Ho-Elianæ. Familiar Letters Domestic and Forren. […], volume I, 3rd edition, London: Printed for Humphrey Mos[e]ley, […], published 1655, OCLC 84295516, section VI, page 284:
- Indeed 'tis very fitting that He or She ſhould have wherewith to ſupport both, according to their quality, at leaſt to keep the Wolf from the Door, otherwiſe 'twere a meer madneſs to Marry; […]
- (idiomatic, humorous, euphemistic) To delay sexual ejaculation.
- ^ John Hardyng (January 1543), “The. xcviii. Chapiter. The Lamentacyon of the Maker of this Booke, and His Counsayle to My Lorde of Yorke, for Good Rule in the Realme of Englande”, in The Chronicle of Ihon Hardyng, […], London: In officina Richardi Graftoni, OCLC 702183961:
- Endowe hym now with noble sapience, / By whiche he maye the wolf werre frome the gate, / For wisedome is more worth in all defence, / Then any gold or riches congregate; […].
- ^ Notes and Queries: A Medium of Inter-communication for Literary Men, Artists, Antiquaries, Genealogists, etc., volume 4, issue 84, London: Bell and Daldy, 8 August 1857, OCLC 887525157, page 115.