rob Peter to pay Paul

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(Can this(+) etymology be sourced?) The expression refers to times before the Reformation when Church taxes had to be paid from St. Paul's church in London and to St. Peter's church in Rome; originally it referred to neglecting the Peter tax in order to have money to pay the Paul tax. This etymology is disputed.[1]


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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 (London), vol. 17, no. 98, p. 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, Priscilla Painton et al., "Mere Millions For Kids," Time, 8 April:
      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."


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