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Language Arts

Cry Wolf



Were you ever told as a child not to cry wolf? What does this popular saying or phrase mean, and where did it originate? Find out the definition of this popular idiom and the history behind the phrase -Cry Wolf- in this article.

With some of our popular phrases and sayings here on Educationbug.org, some of them are difficult to pinpoint exactly how they originated. With the famous expression to, "Cry Wolf" it is not a secret that the idiom is derived from the fable The Boy Who Cried Wolf.

The popular phrase to "cry wolf" is the description for someone who continually lies about something and when that "something" really does happen, no one believes them because they have lied (or cried wolf) so much about it previously. The moral is now a popular idiom to help keep one from lying (or crying wolf).

The term "Cry Wolf" is originally derived from Aesop's Fables. Aesop was a slave and story teller, whom scholars believe to have existed in Ancient Greece in the 5th Century BC. Many believe that Aesop wrote a series of stories all with morals to help readers realize the consequences of their poor actions. Such as the case with Aesop's Fable of the Boy Who Cried Wolf.

In the story, the boy is watching his sheep and out of boredom calls to the villagers about a wolf that is attacking his sheep. When the villagers arrive to help him, there is of course no wolf, and the boy laughs about the trick he paid on the villagers. They leave upset that he has lied (cried wolf) to them. A while later, the boy cries wolf again with no actual wolf. The villagers arrive to help and see again there is no wolf. Upset, they leave again. However, a while later a wolf actually does show up to eat the boy's sheep. The boy cries for help, but no one comes because they think he is lying (crying wolf) again. Ultimately all of the boy's sheep are killed or run off. In some versions of the story, the boy is also eaten by the wolf.

The moral of the story is described at the end of the story: "Even when liars tell the truth, they are never believed. The liar will lie once, twice, and then perish when he tells the truth." Ultimately, the idea and modern day moral to this popular expression, is to not make up lies, or "cry wolf' because one day your word will mean nothing even if it is indeed the truth. 

Sources:

storyarts.org, aesops-fables.org.uk, knowyourphrase.com