keep the wolf from the door

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The original saying may have been keep the wolf from the gate, which dates from at least 1470.[1] 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”.[2]


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)

  1. (idiomatic) To ward off poverty or hunger.
    They didn't earn much, but it was enough to keep the wolf from the door.
  2. (idiomatic, humorous, euphemistic) To delay sexual ejaculation.
    • 1997, Steve Coogan as Alan Partridge, “Alan Attraction”, in I'm Alan Partridge, written by Peter Baynham, Steve Coogan, and Armando Iannucci:
      Do you mind if I talk? It helps me keep the wolf from the door, so to speak. Jill, what do you think of the pedestrianization of Norwich city centre?
    • 2002 July 30, “the mekon”, “Wanking”, in, Usenet[1], message-ID <ai45tt$110mqu$>:
      I find it useful to look at a picture of Mo Mowlam at the change hands point, it helps to ‘keep the wolf from the door’ so to speak.
    • 2014 December 1, “Carnal Calendar”, in Men's Health[2], South Africa, archived from the original on 8 March 2017:
      If you haven't got the self-control to keep the wolf from the door yourself, ask your partner to help out. She'll enjoy being the one in the driving seat for a change.



  1. ^ 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, in Metre, from the First Begynnyng of Englande, vnto the Reigne of Edwarde the Fourth, where He Made an End of His Chronicle. And from that Tyme is Added with a Continuacion of the Storie in Prose to this Our Tyme. Now First Emprinted, Gathered out of Diuerse and Soundrie Autours, of Most Certain Knowelage and Substanciall Credit, that either in Latin, or els in Our Mother Toungue, haue Writen of the Affaires of Englande, London: In officina Richardi Graftoni, OCLC 702183961; republished as John Hardyng; Richard Grafton, The Chronicle of Iohn Hardyng. Containing an Account of Public Transactions from the Earliest Period of English History to the Beginning of the Reign of King Edward the Fourth. Together with the Continuation by Richard Grafton, to the Thirty Fourth Year of King Henry the Eighth. The Former Part Collated with Two Manuscripts of the Author's Own Time; the Last, with Grafton's Duplicate Edition. To which are Added a Biographical and Literary Preface, and an Index, by Henry Ellis, London: Printed for F[rancis] C[harles] and J[ohn] Rivington; [et al.], 1812, OCLC 220598405, stanza XII, page 181: “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; []”.
  2. ^ 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.