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To cry wolf

  • The idiom to cry wolf has an ancient origin. An idiom is a word, group of words or phrase that has a figurative meaning that is not easily deduced from its literal definition. Often using descriptive imagery, common idioms are words and phrases used in the English language in order to convey a concise idea, and are often spoken or are considered informal or conversational. English idioms can illustrate emotion more quickly than a phrase that has a literal meaning, even when the etymology or origin of the idiomatic expression is lost. An idiom is a metaphorical figure of speech, and it is understood that it is not a use of literal language. Figures of speech have definitions and connotations that go beyond the literal meaning of the words. Mastery of the turn of phrase of an idiom or other parts of speech is essential for the English learner. Many English as a Second Language students do not understand idiomatic expressions such as beat around the bush, cut the mustard, let the cat out of the bag, hit the sack, ankle biter, barking up the wrong tree, kick the bucket, hit the nail on the head, under the weather, piece of cake, when pigs fly, and raining cats and dogs, as they attempt to translate them word for word, which yields only the literal meaning. In addition to learning vocabulary and grammar, one must understand the phrasing of the figurative language of idiomatic phrases in order to know English like a native speaker. We will examine the meaning of the idiom to cry wolf, where it came from and some examples of its use in sentences.


     

    To cry wolf means to raise a false alarm, to call for help when it is not truly needed. When someone is accused of crying wolf, the implication is that the next time the person raises an alarm or asks for help, no one will believe that he is in a dire strait. The idiom to cry wolf is derived from a popular Aesop Fable known as The Boy Who Cried Wolf. In the story, a shepherd boy relieves his boredom while tending sheep by calling out to his townspeople that a wolf is attacking his flock. When the townspeople arrive, there is no wolf. The boy tricks the town several times, so when a real wolf arrives and the boy cries for help, the townspeople do not believe him. The wolf eats the flock of sheep. The Boy Who Cried Wolf is a popular tale to tell children, to teach them not to lie. Related phrases are cries wolf, cried wolf, crying wolf.

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    Examples

    A dipstick survey among men at any workplace shows a majority assigning some portion of the blame of sexual harassment to the woman herself, often concluding that such charges are nothing but the age-old honey trap ploy or cry wolf syndrome to get what she wants.  (The Daily Pioneer)

    The change is needed because “cry wolf” calls cost personnel time that could better be spent on actual crime, police Capt. Beto Balderrama said. (The Journal Record)

    “This sort of crying wolf is part of the reason I think a lot of working-class white voters are tuning out Democratic politicians — and ignoring their (otherwise valid) criticisms of Trump.” (New York Magazine)


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