Robbing Peter to Pay Paul – Meaning and Origin

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Candace Osmond

Candace Osmond studied Advanced Writing & Editing Essentials at MHC. She’s been an International and USA TODAY Bestselling Author for over a decade. And she’s worked as an Editor for several mid-sized publications. Candace has a keen eye for content editing and a high degree of expertise in Fiction.

The idiom robbing Peter to pay Paul means taking resources from one area to allocate them to another, usually with the implication that this is a short-sighted or temporary solution to a problem.

It’s like paying an overdue bill with your credit card. Sure, it solves one problem quickly, but you’ll have a credit card bill coming at you eventually. This age-old phrase has a long history with the church, specifically St. Peter’s church in Rome and St. Paul’s in London.

Idioms, like robbing Peter to pay Paul, are phrases where the words together have a different meaning than their individual definitions. They are vital to the English language because they add depth, color, and cultural context to our communication, enabling us to convey complex ideas and emotions in a concise and relatable manner. 

So, let’s take a second to study how this phrase came to be with its meaning and origin story, and I’ll also share some examples of it in a sentence.

The Meaning of Robbing Peter to Pay Paul

Robbing Peter to Pay Paul – Meaning and Origin 1

Robbing Peter to pay Paul is a phrase that precisely captures a situation where one’s actions create a zero-sum game. In this scenario, resources are not increased but merely shifted from one place to another. This idiom essentially signifies a temporary fix for a minor problem that inevitably results in a cascade of unresolved issues down the line.

Picture it as a financial juggling act, where you borrow from one account to cover another, leaving both accounts with a deficit in the end. It may seem like a convenient shortcut at the moment, but it often sets the stage for greater challenges in the future.

This expression reminds us that while we may alleviate immediate concerns, it’s crucial to consider the long-term consequences of our decisions, as robbing Peter to pay Paul rarely offers a sustainable solution.

Proper Capitalization for Rob Peter to Pay Paul

Generally, when you’re using the idiom in a sentence, you should capitalize the two names, aka proper nouns, Peter and Paul.

Robbing Peter to Pay Paul Origin and Etymology

Robbing Peter to Pay Paul Ngram
Robbing Peter to pay Paul usage trend.

The idiom “robbing Peter to pay Paul” goes back to the 17th century and is said to have religious origins. There’s a popular theory that it refers to the cost incurred in renovating St. Peter’s church in Rome while neglecting the much-needed repairs of St. Paul’s in London.

So, metaphorically, they were robbing one church’s funds to pay for another. This theory is one of the most widely accepted explanations for the idiom’s origin. This idiom serves as a reminder of the consequences of shifting resources from one place to another and the potential ripple effects such decisions can have.

Synonyms for Robbing Peter to Pay Paul

  • Shifting the burden
  • Borrowing from Paul to pay Peter
  • Juggling resources
  • A zero-sum game
  • Shuffling the deck chairs on the Titanic

Examples of Robbing Peter to Pay Paul in a Sentence

Robbing Peter to Pay Paul – Meaning and Origin 2

  • Taking a loan to pay off another debt is simply robbing Peter to pay Paul.
  • By cutting the education budget to fund the defense, aren’t we robbing Peter to pay Paul?
  • My little sister robbed Peter to pay Paul when she used her savings to cover the credit card bill.
  • We’re just robbing Peter to pay Paul if we prioritize aesthetics over functionality in this design.
  • By delaying maintenance to fund the party, we’re clearly robbing Peter to pay Paul here.
  • “Isn’t cutting health benefits to improve the bottom line like robbing Peter to pay Paul?” the reporter asked.
  • I’ve been robbing Peter to pay Paul for so long that I’m not sure who owes whom anymore!
  • She’s always robbing Peter to pay Paul with the bakery, but I wonder when she’ll run out of resources.

The Bottom Line

The idiom “robbing Peter to pay Paul” is more than just shifting resources. It’s a reminder of the delicate balancing acts we have to face in our adult lives. Now, skip right over to the next idiom on our list and beef up your vocabulary!