Can you count to 10? – idiom

Baa, hanged for a sheep as a lamb
Pic by Johan Pettrich, unsplash

Can you count to 10? Good then you can help with the untelling of the decuplets saga. In the Financial Mail today, a staff writer says Iqual Survé, the owner of the newspaper, that shared the story, would reveal all. The writer uses the expression ‘hanged for a sheep as a lamb’ to illustrate how preposterous this exposé may be.

To be hanged for a sheep as a lamb means that you will suffer as much for the small crime as the larger one. For example, if I am going to be punished for stealing pens, I may as well take the stapler and the punch as well – build myself a nice little stationery collection at home.

Does the punishment fit the crime?

We all know that the sheep is the adult of the lamb. So, I compare this to committing a child-sized crime vs an adult crime – ie the full-blown, whole hog crime. Why hold back? – the idiom suggests.

Phrases.org.uk has some insight as to the origin of the idiom and all sources agree it dates back to a time when stealing sheep would ensure a severe punishment for the deed.

To the gallows!

“Until at least 1800 in England, the penalty for stealing sheep, irrespective of the animal’s age or gender, was execution or deportation. Since there is more meat and wool on a fully-grown sheep, why bother putting the same effort into stealing a lamb if the consequence of being caught for either crime was the gallows?

You would use this idiom in a much lighter vein. For example, ‘I’ve broken my diet with a sugar drink, I may as well have the piece of cake too and be hanged for the lamb as for the sheep.

Don’t do things in half-measures

Another view is that the idiom means, there’s no point in doing things in half-measures. I think this is really the same thing with a different emphasis. This interpretation gives a more positive spin but  I am sticking with the interpretation of being punished with the same measures whether the offense be great or small.

For more animal idioms:

Hard to call someone a horse’s ass: idiom usage

A pig in a poke

Letting the cat out of the bag: idiom origin

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