rob Peter to pay Paul

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Alternative forms[edit]


Unknown. Sometimes claimed to refer to Church taxes paid to Westminster Abbey (originally called Collegiate Church of Saint Peter at Westminster) that were sent to repair St. Paul's Cathedral in the mid 1500s,[1] though records exist of the phrase since about 1450.[2]


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rob Peter to pay Paul (third-person singular simple present robs Peter to pay Paul, present participle robbing Peter to pay Paul, simple past and past participle robbed Peter to pay Paul)

  1. (idiomatic) To use resources that legitimately belong to or are needed by one party in order to satisfy a legitimate need of another party, especially within the same organization or group; to solve a problem in a way that makes another problem worse, producing no net gain.
    • 1838, Fraser's Magazine for Town and Country, volume 17, number 98, London, page 224:
      [I]t would be robbing Peter to pay Paul, for the government to pay a stamp-duty to itself.
    • 1865, Henry David Thoreau, Cape Cod, Chapter VIII. "The Highland Light", page 140.
      Perhaps what the Ocean takes from one part of the Cape it gives to another,—robs Peter to pay Paul.
    • 1991 April 8, Priscilla Painton et al., “Mere Millions For Kids”, in Time[2], archived from the original on 30 June 2013:
      OMB decided that a large part of the money would come from other health programs for poor women and children. That penny-pinching tactic sparked an outcry. [] Senator Christopher Bond of Missouri denounced the plan as pitting "one city's babies against another city's babies." Florida Governor Lawton Chiles, who chairs the National Commission to Prevent Infant Mortality, said it amounted to "robbing Peter to pay Paul."
    • 2021 July 15, Boris Johnson, The Prime Minister's Levelling Up speech[3]:
      [] and so levelling up is not a jam-spreading operation, it’s not robbing Peter to pay Paul, its not zero sum it’s win win for the whole United Kingdom and so here is the plan for levelling up.


See also[edit]


  1. ^ John Heywood (1562), “Index, Note-book, and Word-list”, in Proverbs, Epigrams, and Miscellanies[1], New York: Barnes & Nobel, page 421
  2. ^ Gary Martin (1997–), “Rob Peter to pay Paul”, in The Phrase Finder, retrieved February 1, 2021.